Museum image fees (ctd.)

July 9 2018

Image of Museum image fees (ctd.)

Picture: Birmingham Museums Trust

Good news from the campaign to abolish (or significantly reduce) image reproduction fees. First, from Birmingham Museums Trust. This institution manages nine sites in Birmingham, with over 800,000 objects. And soon images of those works which are already out of copyright will be free to use, in any way you wish. This is the first major collection in the UK to go 'open', and follows the lead of York Museums Trust. 

There is a catch, but I think it's a clever one. Free images will be limited to 3MB at 300 dpi. So the highest resolution images (the ones that you need to making tea towels, say) will still be chargeable. I think this strikes a good balance between wider access and commercial necessities (I've written more about it in this month's Art Newspaper). 3MB at a good resolution is enough for most publishing needs. Here is Birmingham's full statement:

Birmingham Museums Trust has taken the decision to make collection images up to 3MB (no more than 300dpi) freely available, in a step to make the collection more accessible.

Released under the CC0 licence, images of copyright-expired objects in the collection and images of objects not subject to third-party copyright, can now be accessed for free. This approach has been taken to create a simple system which is easy to understand and encourage images to be used widely.

Open access to images will make the collection accessible to as many people as possible. It is hoped the decision will allow academics and researchers more freedom to explore the collection in greater detail, as the images will be available at a suitable size for academic publication. Birmingham Museums will ask publishers to give attribution voluntarily and send a copy of their publication to the museum where possible.

The Trust will continue to charge for high resolution images, helping to protect some of the income from commercial use of images.

To improve access further, Birmingham Museums will introduce a new Digital Asset Management System in late 2019. This means people will be able to download images directly from the Trust’s website, removing the need for an administrative intermediate. More details about this system will be announced later in the year.

The decision comes at a time when Birmingham Museums is planning for a major redevelopment of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Opening access to the images will mean the collection is still accessible in some form online, helping to keep the museum in the public eye at a time when many objects will be off display."

My campaigning colleagues (including Dr Richard Stephens, who has been in very useful discussions with Birmingham on this issue for some time) hope that more institutions will soon be able to follow the example set by Birmingham. 

The next piece of good news is from the Wallace Collection. This has committed to allow free 'academic' use of its images. The announcement comes in its launch of a new website, which is excellent. The new policy has yet to be fully 'rolled out', and currently the Wallace's own definition of 'academic' is extremely limited (essentially, everything you or I would call 'academic' is deemed by them - like most UK museums - to actually be 'commercial, see here.) But I'm glad to be able to report that this will change soon, and be much more generous. 

It's worth noting, incidentally, that the Wallace currently makes no meaningful revenue from image fees. Figures obtained by our campaign show that over the last five years they have never made more than £10,000 profit on image fees. And the profit figure only accounts for 'direct costs', such as staff, and not indirect costs such as general overheads, office space, equipment and other support costs. For the last two years, the Wallace Collection's stated profits from image fees were £6,000 and £9,000, on sales of £28,000 and £32,000. Direct costs to service these sales were £22,000 and £23,000. Add in indirect costs, and you're just treading water. As I've been saying for a long time, image fees are not a sensible way to raise revenue.

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