Why museums should abolish image fees (ctd.)

August 20 2018

Image of Why museums should abolish image fees (ctd.)

Picture: BMT

I recently brought you the news that Birmingham Museums Trust was planning to abolish fees for most images of its collection. On Europeana, the Trust's Digital Development Manager, Linda Spurdle, sets out the reasons behind the move in clear logic that I hope other UK museums will study closely. She begins by saying that restrictive image licenses:

[...] deflected people who wanted to use BMT’s images in ways that would have increased the visibility and knowledge of our collection. Academics, in particular, felt like we were acting as gatekeepers, blocking the use of images in research and academic publications. It was also very difficult for us to enforce this licence as we don’t have the resources to pursue people who use images commercially without permission. [...]

BMT has much in common with other cultural institutions worldwide who have released their images into the public domain. We want to make our collection accessible to as many people as possible, and this includes extending the reach and use of its digital assets worldwide.

She then lists a number of reasons why Open Access is good for Birmingham Museums, but the first is quite interesting:

[it] meets legal requirements of the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015

The RPSI regulations might yet be our strongest tool for helping abolish museum image fees in the UK. They're quite complex, and little known about, but the essence of them is that they prevent publicly funded bodies from commercialising public assets. And of course images of publicly owned paintings are public assets. The rules do allow image fees to be charged, but only to cover the actual costs involved, and a very small 'profit'. There's little doubt that most UK museums who charge image fees are breaching these rules. Many museums don't even know about them. 

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