Museum image fees (ctd.)

July 25 2018

Image of Museum image fees (ctd.)

Picture: AHN reader

There's a fruity letter in today's Telegraph from Viscountess Bridgeman, on both photography in museums, and reproduction fees. The letter was prompted by my being prevented from taking a photograph in the National Gallery of Scotland last week.

I'm not really sure where to begin with this. But I think the first thing to note is that she doesn't - even in her sign off - admit to being the founder of Bridgeman Images, which of course sells museum image licences. Quite a vested interest. I'm also wondering if directly accusing me of using photographs I may have taken on my phone in museums in 'commercial publications' is in fact defamatory, since I have done no such thing.

But at least it shows that the reason museums still try and prohibit photography is purely because they want to make money from selling images, which as we all know, doesn't work anyway. It's a shame that museums (and Lady Bridgeman) think we museum snappers are all con artists, out for a free image to stick on our best-selling range of tea towels. But those of us who have been leapt on by museum warders for taking a photo knows how this feels.

I ought to write a response to The Telegraph; if anyone can think of any zingers, let me know.

As for her suggestion that I should give away my illustrated publications, then welcome to AHN.

Update - a reader writes:

Lady Bridgeman has made a career profiting from other peoples images - including museums. Indeed, if she is so concerned about the financial solvency of such important public institutions, Bridgeman Images would be a charitable, non-profit organisation.

The fact she also founded the Artist's Collecting Society to collect Artist's Resale Right speaks volumes, as does her representation of that society on the British Copyright Council. Further, I was also interested to learn she sits on the Intellectual Property Advisory Committee. Given her personal involvement in such bodies, you might think her letter to you might have been a little more astute.

Update II - the Telegraph put my response in (somewhat edited):


Viscountess Bridgeman (Letters, July 25) suggests that the only way Britain's under-funded museums can raise extra revenue is by selling images of 'their' collections. She supports a ban on photography in museums. 

First, these paintings belong to the public, not museums. Secondly, the evidence is that most UK museums do not raise meaningful revenue from image sales - for many it is lossmaking. Thirdly, museums would make more money if they made full use of social media to bring in more visitors, and that involves allowing photography for personal use.

Finally, museum image fees make academic publications prohibitively expensive. The fee for an image of the National Gallery's Fighting Temeraire by Turner (out of copyright) in an educational book of just 2,500 copies is £158. That fee is payable through Lady Bridgeman's company, Bridgeman Images.

I see in a Guardian interview that Lady Bridgeman says her company gives '50%' back to museums. So that's £79 to her company, and £79 to the National Gallery.

Update III - I didn't realise that Bridgeman has a deal with the Royal Collection too. The whole image fee hustle is underpinned by naked commercialism.

Update IV - an economist writes:

The image fee question isn't a matter of crass commercialism which you said recently. It is a matter of unsound commercial and professional judgement by museums. Bridgeman [crass and commercial] makes a profit on the fees for art from thousands of collections, so it has a substantial economic interest in image fees. Most of the individual collections derive very little from such fees, and the amounts earned might be offset by direct costs and by the effect of limiting access to their collections.  In addition, there is the question of the public purpose for national collections. Private collections are welcome to derive revenue from whatever legal sources are available to them.   But public collections receive public funding, which creates a communal obligation, and they are exempt charitable organizations. Image fees, if charged, therefore, should offset their public funding. Were that approach taken by government (local and national), the museums would quickly amend their accounts to show that they don't profit from the image fees, which then leaves the question, why collect them.

The second major point is the incidence of such fees.   Bridgeman and others would have the public believe that the fees are a museum's share of commercial revenues from goods and publishing, and indeed some fees are associated with commercially profitable activities, but the majority or a substantial share of fees come from academic, other educational, and public service activities.   The incidence of these fees is on students, scholars, and educational institutions, precisely the group who should be subsidized rather than charged.   Further, some scholars acknowledge that they can recapture some fees through foundation or public grants, however this simply shifts the incidence of the fees to charitable and public entities. Then there is the substantial administrative burden on everyone.

And another reader writes:

Your efforts in the whole business of reproduction fees are VERY much appreciated. These costs caused me real problems with research and publication earlier in my career, and it rankles today that I’m often undertaking unpaid research on a gallery’s art works, yet have to pay the gallery a fee in order to publish it. As for Viscountess Bridgeman’s letter – the cheek! And indeed I know just how embarrassing as well as annoying it can be to be treated like a con artist or criminal when taking a photo in a gallery. 

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