Image Licences on ArtUK

June 18 2018

Video: ArtUK

The ArtUK website has made a short video about the various types of image licenses you can find on the site. There are a bewildering array, but burrow deeply enough and you can find some institutions that have signed up for fairly liberal types of Creative Commons licenses, which allow you to use images for free in many circumstances. ArtUK has a search facility which allows you to find works by the type of licence on offer. Remember, something having a 'Creative Commons' license may sound as if it belongs to 'the commons' (ie, all of us) but usually it doesn't. Tate, for example, make much of their Creative Commons licenses, but actually they're highly restrictive, and have been re-written by Tate to make them even more so (against the rules of Creative Commons itself).

Anyway, while I'm glad that ArtUK have made this filtering system available, it is nonetheless a rather depressing reflection of the unnecessary limitations these licenses place on us (to say nothing of the possibility of copyfraud, given the legal uncertainty about copyright in artworks which are themselves out of copyright). In the video, ArtUK invites users to search for the right licenses for 'presentations' and 'academic papers'. But  the mere fact that we even need a 'license' for such images is a sad reflection on how image licensing acts as a brake on art history. Remember, these are (almost always) publicly owned artworks.

Still, I think ArtUK is our best chance of making images of the UK's art collection more widely available to scholars and educators. For that reason, I and my campaigning colleagues are working on persuading institutions to makr their images as 'Public Domain', or the most generous Creative Commons licences on ArtUK. Watch this space.

The next step is to persuade ArtUK itself to make high resolution images available for institutions that have agreed to make their images available for free re-use. At the moment, ArtUK only allows you to download high-res images if you buy a license through their shop. The low-res images available on the main site are not usually good enough for publication, even online. But there is no option to download high-res images from institutions that have gone 'open'. I have done my best to persuade ArtUK to rethink this, and have even offered financial support if necessary (as a longstanding supporter of theirs).

That said, many of us are very concerned that ArtUK - whose founding raison d'etre as Fred Hohler's Public Catalogue Foundation was to make images of public art available to the public - has now joined the image selling business. The ArtUK licensing shop is, unfortunately, helping museums perpetuate the practice of monetising their artworks by offering a more 'efficient' way of making money from images. My campaigning colleagues are finding it is actually one of our greatest competitors, when we discuss open access with institutions. When we're making the case for institutions to stop selling images, it's always helpful to our cause when we point out that it's actually a very inefficient way of raising revenue, because you need to employ people to answer all the different enquiries that come in, and help determine who deserves a discount and so on. But selling licenses through ArtUK is attractive to some institutions, because ArtUK is a charity, and a much more palatable partner than, say, Bridgeman, which is a commercial company.

Let there be no doubt, if more and more British institutions sign up to ArtUK's image licensing system, then academic and education art historical publishing will become even more difficult and more expensive. Gone will be the flexibility of academics being able to make their case to museums directly for a free image, because instead you'll just be dealing with an algorithm. I just looked up what an image fee would be through ArtUK for an academic publication, of just 500 copies, and for an inside image; £78. That's expensive. It's the same for whichever institution you select.  

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