“Can I Use This?” How Museum and Library Image Policies Undermine Education

By Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker

Is the discipline of art history (together with museums and libraries) squandering the digital revolution? We’re not the only ones with this concern. Just last week James Cuno wrote a short article, “How Art History is Failing the Internet” and WIlliam Noel tweeted, “Calling on all other great libraries; follow @britishlibrary‘s example. Free your images!”

What we lost
Although eight years have passed since Eastman Kodak announced that it would stop manufacturing slide projectors, we have built only a fragmented system for distributing high-quality digital images—one that is failing our students, our discipline and the public. More has changed than the technology we use to illustrate our lectures. Pre-digital, we sought and created slides from the best available sources. We retained excellent older reproductions, purchased high-quality sets, and made new images on copy-stands. In each case, the guiding principle was to expand the slide collection with the highest quality images. One might think digital technology would have made it easier to follow this principle; unfortunately, the opposite is true.

Ten years ago, to prepare for class, we went to the slide library, chatted with colleagues, and pulled slides. The slide library was a one-stop shop. Now, if we want the best images available, we spend hours cobbling together a presentation from a frustrating array of sources, each with its own restrictions. We often use our university’s own repository, ARTstor, Flickr, the Google Art Project, museum websites, the Web Gallery of Art, Wikimedia, and even more specialized sources.

A culture out of step
Even though we live in a culture where high-quality educational resources are being widely and freely distributed (think iTunesU, Khan Academy, edX), high-quality images remain expensive and using them for teaching is more complicated than ever. Even as access to educational materials becomes more open, and images become ever more ubiquitous, high-resolution images that reproduce works of art (with reliable metadata) remain highly restricted.

The eco-system today
No other discipline would accept the ridiculous fragmentation outlined below:

  • ARTstor: high-resolution images (and generally reliable metadata) are behind a paywall. If your institution subscribes, you can use these images online in high resolution. However, only lower resolution images are available for download. ARTstor also offers valuable tools for classroom presentation.
  • Google Art Project: high resolution images (and reliable metadata) are free, but cannot be downloaded. It’s worth remembering that many classrooms lack a broadband connection and therefore can’t access this resource.
  • Libraries: the New York Public Library Digital Gallery, The Library of Congress, and many other academic libraries have been best-practice leaders, and recently the British Library made their Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts available under a public domain mark.
  • Wikimedia / Wikipaintings (two distinct projects): high-resolution images are downloadable, but often lack the quality metadata provided by our museums, universities, and libraries.

Our responsibility
Now don’t get us wrong. We’re not blaming ARTstor and we’re not blaming Google (or any of the other efforts to provide public domain images to the public). In fact, they are all the unsung heroes of this unfolding story (see our post, Why the Google Art Project is Important). For its part, ARTstor provides an invaluable service, but let’s not forget that their images are closed to the billions of people around the world who are not enrolled at a subscribing institution. Think of the impact on K-12 instruction.

As faculty, we have a responsibility to make the best images available to our students. Museums also have an educational mandate; don’t they have a responsibility to the wider public not served by ARTstor? Remember, most of the images we need to teach art history are in the public domain. Barriers to these images are of our own making.

The museum’s quandary
Repositories are often dependent on images that their providers—primarily museums and libraries—insist need to be locked down (and this even includes work in the public domain). Why?  William Noel cites one reason, “The policymakers…don’t like the idea that reproductions of these images can be available for free. It feels to them like you are denigrating your greatest asset.” If this is true, then museum policy betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of digital culture, where scarcity is no longer equated with value.

Museums also cite revenue loss as a reason to restrict digital images. For many years, rights and reproductions departments provided an important revenue source. Fair enough. High-quality transparencies were expensive to duplicate, and the time it took to process and ship them, required resources. That time is over. These departments have in many cases been farmed out to for-profit companies that take a cut even from graduate students and researchers who publish out of their own pockets. A more rational solution would ensure that commercial publishers pay by including a simple non-commercial clause, while opening access to public domain images for everyone else.

Of course high-quality digital images are expensive to create and catalogue. In a recent twitter exchange, Ryan Donahue rightly noted, “Not every museum can afford the tech resource to provide it for you, many struggle to meet demands of on-site” adding that “You have to take revenue OFF the table. It’s about Mission > Revenue” But of course museums regularly restrict the photographs they already have; and visitor photographs are limited to personal use, ignoring not-for-profit educational uses in the classroom and on the web.

It’s not really about copyright
A recent article by Kenneth D. Crews, “Museum Policies and Art Images: Conflicting Objectives and Copyright Overreaching, noted that museums have additional reasons for controlling the distribution of images (museums make promises to donors and rightly seek to ensure appropriate handling of an image and an artist’s reputation). But his findings go on to pinpoint the key issue, that museums use a variety of strategies beyond copyright to restrict the circulation of images, Imagine if I were to print my logo along side some photographs from a museum!

Museums create a legal conundrum when they claim legal rights to control images, where copyright protection is doubtful at best. The works in question—both the artwork and the reproduction—may be completely in the public domain. Nevertheless, museums often assert claims of copyright protection to the images. If they are not in fact claiming copyright protection, they are often asserting levels of control over those works through contract or license terms associated with the work. Some museums go further and assert levels of control simply through terms of use that purport to be binding on anyone accessing the images from a website or other source. The museum that supplies the image is the party that is solely defining the terms of use, and it can do so based only on its ability to control access to the work. Yet the terms asserted are typically couched as if they were binding provisions of law. The museum is the gatekeeper of access to the art and to the images; in its role as a gatekeeper, the museum is devising claims that may be overreaching.

Controlling access to the original artwork is an outgrowth of the museum‘s possession of property, not of copyright.*

Restrictions limit influence
These restrictions produce an ironic result. The more museums restrict their images, the more works of art appear on the web in poor-quality reproduction, without color controls and without proper metadata. Restrictive museum policies seek to retain authority, but in practice render the museum’s expertise largely irrelevant for those beyond its walls. It is time for museums to support, not undermine, the public domain and to allow reproductions of their collections to freely circulate. Only in this way can they take a leadership role in our increasingly fluid visual culture. Do museums willfully avert their gaze from the fact that their collections are already online, in a black market of sorts, without the benefit of their expertise?

A huge new audience
Since Smarthistory joined Khan Academy a year ago, we have learned that there is a tremendous global appetite for high-quality learning content and we believe this extends to high-quality images. By maintaining access restrictions, we are locking out a world that is hungry to learn. The long term result of our existing policies will be a discipline that will be smaller and less influential than it might otherwise be. Salman Khan recently said, “There’s a lot more demand [from] people who want to improve themselves than anyone would have guessed.”

As we noted above, a handful of museums have begun providing downloadable high-resolution images for personal and educational use. We applaud these efforts. Just last week the Rijksmuseum launched Rijks Studio where downloading and remixing images is not only supported, it is encouraged. This initiative reminds us of Peter Samis’s questions, “Are the artworks ours to give? Are they ours to withhold?”—questions that need to be considered by every art museum director. The new Rijks Studio makes it clear that the Rijksmuseum is there to give. They state, “All of the images in our collection are high resolution. So the printout of your favorite works will look great, as a poster, for example, or you can even download them and make something yourself!”

Doing harm
The study and appreciation of art’s history is being thwarted by outdated, artificial restrictions on documentary photographs of works of art in the public domain. By accepting these conditions, art historians and our professional organizations have diminished our discipline. That there hasn’t been a greater backlash by art historians is not surprising given the findings of another recent study that outlined the disconnect between the discipline and digital technology.** Art historians have accepted the legal overreach by museums, even while admitting the harm done to their own scholarship and that undertaken by their students. Scholars and students have no legal tools to do otherwise—teachers don’t normally have access to a general counsel. In essence, museums suppress scholarship and educational initiatives via a chilling effect. Museums assert layers of restrictions with impenetrable legal language (see for example, a reproduction of a painting by the 19th-century artist Gustave Caillebotte). As art historians want to maintain their strong ties to museums, they often simply forgo publishing an image. The irony is that other disciplines more freely use the 42,500 results that come from a simple Google image search for the Caillebotte cited above.

We believe that museums can best ensure that our shared cultural heritage is understood in a thoughtful and informed historical context by freeing their images. We hope that museums, libraries and academics can work together to find better solutions and we look forward to the conversation.

*Crews, Kenneth D., Museum Policies and Art Images: Conflicting Objectives and Copyright Overreaching (July 1, 2012). Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 22, p. 795, 2012. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2120210. Crews is Director, Copyright Advisory Office, Columbia University Libraries/Information Services. The article is an outgrowth of a research study of museum policies and practices funded by The Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

** Transitioning to a Digital World. Art History, Its Research Centers and Digital Scholarship. A Report to The Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University by Diane M. Zorich (May 2012).

Kress Foundation sponsored research can be found here

Also see our blog post, Museums and Open Education

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About Beth Harris

Dr. Beth Harris is dean of Art and History at the Khan Academy. She is a specialist in Victorian art, and co-founder of Smarthistory.org, which has received numerous awards including a Webby (2009) and the 2012 Award for Open Courseware Excellence given by the Open Courseware Consortium.

About Steven Zucker

Dr. Steven Zucker is dean of Art and History at Khan Academy. He is a co-founder of Smarthistory.orgwhich won the Webby Award for education in 2009, was picked by Time Magazine as one of the 50 best websites of 2011, and won the 2012 award for Open Courseware Excellence given by the Open Courseware Consortium.
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31 Responses to “Can I Use This?” How Museum and Library Image Policies Undermine Education

  1. Jenny R says:

    The fragmentation is terrible, but as a 20-year life sciences ibrarian I can tell you with confidence that many other disciplines are equally fragmented. That doesn’t help you right now, but the good news is you’re not alone in the wilderness.

  2. theframeblog says:

    I have just started The Frame Blog, as an academic online magazine for art historians, conservators, and anyone who’s interested in the history of picture frames.It launched in mid-August, & has so far had around 3,600 views, which isn’t too bad for a rather esoteric subject; it’s subscribed to by lots of major museums across the world, and has several hundred Twitter followers.
    It is, of course, quite image-heavy (horrible expression), since frames are not necessarily visually familiar, and I am reliant upon the generosity of museums, institutions, commercial galleries, etc., to give me permission to use the photos I already have, or to nip into their holdings with a mobile phone & take a snap for me.
    Until the current article (Pre-Raphaelite Frames Part II: http://theframeblog.wordpress.com/ ) I have had a really kind & helpful response (from, for instance, The Clark Inst of Art, Tate, Lincoln’s Inn, The Wadsworth Atheneum, NPG, the Yale Center for British Art, British Museum, Firle Place, Philip Mould, Manchester AG, &c.).
    This edition, however, is disfigured by a b-&-w drawing I’ve had to do myself, because the museum in question wouldn’t let me use a very high-quality photo which I possess, taken in the exhibition by the Tate frame conservator. Instead, I was expected to buy their image – despite the fact that I pointed out I was running the blog in my own time, and had no resources to support it. This is not a work where a donor can be upset; there are numerous images of the painting ubiquitously obtainable, & the museum even has an image visible online with the frame – although not of high enough resolution to see any of the details.
    I think that knowledge should be as freely available as possible (except where it’s someone’s living), and this attitude on the part of the museum seems incredibly grasping. The resolution needed to display the photo on my blog isn’t really high enough to encourage secondary use of it by users, just good enough to show details, and certainly no-one would want to download it for the sake of the painting sans frame.
    I really cannot see the sense in this obstructive stance, just at the moment when, as you point out, so many institutions are putting their entire collection of visual images online, and I hope that your article here helps to shame the others into joining in.

  3. C C says:

    It is a challenging time for libraries, archives and museums. Already strapped for funds and staff, most are being pushed to go digital in a big way. As a former librarian, I hear former colleagues complain that live use of their facilities and their print, video, etc. collections is down. E-readers and digital editions are being pushed. However, building costs, new acquisitions costs, maintenance of existing collections, and digitalization costs are putting even more pressure on budgets. I remember a case where a print image from our historical society had been copied and prints were being sold in a shop. If museums release high quality digital images with no download and use restrictions, will Amazon, eBay or another mega internet vendor eventually make distribution of art images turn into the equivalent of a copyright free ebook? If so, museums would lose revenue in the long run. Why buy the nice print catalog of a current exhibit when you can expect to be able to download images for free on the internet? Digital cameras have all but ended traditional photography and talented photographers find it hard to make a decent living selling prints. Digitalization may eventually to the demise of some institutions. Print newspapers are disappearing because of online access. Only time will tell.

  4. You’ve written a provocative post touching on several issues regarding the availability of quality images for scholarship and education. I can’t help but comment that it may have been useful for you to discuss these issues with more museum professionals. You’d discover through such conversations that the trend is definitely towards implementing or joining projects which lead to greater openness in sharing museum images and data, particularly for educational or scholarly use. But this isn’t going to occur overnight. When it comes to the approval for and implementation of newer open access practices, smaller or more “tradition bound” museums face some large hurdles — not exclusively involving digitization and technology, or vital revenue streams. I believe someone once quipped that it’s akin to turning a large cruise ship rather than a nimble speedboat. But that said, many museums have or are actively working on revising their image use policies and releasing improved online interfaces to share images and data with our audiences as well as engage them with tools to tag, collect, and share these images and data with others. Have a look at Minneapolis Institute of Art’s beta collections site to see an example from my own institution: https://collections.artsmia.org/. And museums are also typically willing to partner with the educational community in providing images for scholarly research and publication in exchange for enriching the scholarship around the works of art held in our collections. Ask us.

    In the meantime, you mentioned that old one-stop shop, the Slide Library. There is also an opportunity for those in academia to visit the “slide library of the digital age” – the Visual Resources Collection (or VRC) and reacquaint themselves with the resources and services provided by their institution’s Visual Resources Professionals. In addition to providing access to subscription image databases such as ARTstor, VRC’s typically create quality digital copy photography for use in lectures just as they formerly created slides. A recent post to VRA-L explored this very issue of why aren’t faculty using the VRC as a source for digital images? (see discussion thread “PowerPoints and Quality” – http://listserv.uark.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind1211&L=VRA-L&F=&S=&P=36356). Those quality image resources you are looking for may be closer and easier to find than you thought.

    Thanks for the post.
    Heidi (aka heideland)

  5. Mark Notess says:

    Important article–thanks!

    Those who try to lock up and make money off of out-of-copyright works overlook the damage they are doing to the size of their future audience.

    No online reproduction of, e.g., Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” can begin to replicate the experience of standing in front of the painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. The more people we can freely educate about the history and context of the painting, the more there will be who are likely to go see it or care that it exists.

    Fight back against legal overreach!

  6. Pingback: How some museums are hurting education with restrictive access to art images | Copyright Roundup

  7. drszucker says:

    Dear Heidi,

    Many thanks for your thoughtful response. We appreciate the opportunity to expand a bit on what we’ve written and to acknowledge museums, like the MIA, that are working hard to make their collections more accessible despite limited resources. It’s work by committed professionals like you that is improving access to high-quality images.

    We have, in fact, had many conversations with museum staff about image access through our work with Smarthistory, our time at MoMA, and from other related endeavors. When we organized early conferences on the transition to digital images, we got to see the extraordinary commitment of members of the VRA and have been huge supporters of VR departments ever since. We have taught every semester for more than 20 years and we have always relied on our extremely hard working and incredibly knowledgeable visual resource curator. VR professionals are among the most generous, committed people in our discipline.

    As you wrote, the trend is indeed toward museums becoming more open, and our post listed several museums that now offer high-resolution images online, applauding those efforts. Having worked in museums, we know first hand that these organizations are slow ships to turn! Time moves faster in the digital realm however, and we suspect that we all agree that museums would benefit from becoming more nimble.

    Our concern is broader though. It is with the difficult and fragmented terrain that results from museum policy and that professors and students have to navigate. Many museums bend over backwards to be helpful, but the restrictions are real. We spend hours each week navigating these resources and from our perspective, the image eco-system, taken as a whole, is a disaster.

    We have found that it can be difficult, as a museum professional, to adopt the viewpoint of a user—perhaps a student or teacher of art history, or perhaps simply someone seeking to learn on their own, who seeks to access resources across museum collections, who may or may not have a VR curator, or access to ARTstor. It is our belief (and one that we think is not unusual) that museums are missing an opportunity to lend their incredible expertise to our image-centric culture by maintaining restrictions on public domain images. And as art historians we’ve also witnessed first-hand the way that these restrictions are doing damage to the study of art history and the publishing of open educational resources (OER) in art history. The web offers us a historic opportunity to make high quality learning resources available to many more people than was ever possible before. We want museums be leaders in the education revolution that is taking place.

    For more on this, please see our earlier post: http://mfeldstein.com/museums-and-open-education/

  8. drszucker says:

    Please note, the previous response was written by both Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

  9. Beth and Steven, thanks for replying and expanding some of your thoughts about this issue. I also appreciate the tone emerging in the dialog here.

    I agree that navigating the currents of the image eco-system isn’t easy, particularly if one is looking for a cross-museum solution somewhere on the horizon. I’m going to be brutally honest and say that this is a terrain which will remain fragmented for some time to come due to myriad different reasons.

    At any rate, please know that when it comes to open sharing of images and data most museums are doing their best individually to set a course with an eye to the future and the needs of all our diverse museum audiences very much in mind.

    Best regards,

  10. Beth Harris says:

    Hi Heidi, I’m afraid I don’t share your optimism about the willingness of “most museums” to open their highest resolution, public domain images to the commons (we spend a good part of our days checking in on an amazing number of museum websites for our work). We’re also pretty aware of all the reasons this terrain will remain fragmented, but the issue is less the fragmentation than it is all the restrictions and the general lack of availability of downloadable, high-quality, high-resolution art history images – with 100% reliable metadata – on the web (ie. free). For the most part, the images that are there now are not provided by museums.

  11. theframeblog says:

    I would just like to emphasize that in my own case, I was asking permission to use high-quality images of the framed painting which were in my own possession – they did not even belong to the museum. The museum spokesman informed me that he would rather I did not use these photos, but that I should buy the museum’s own images. He offered a discount, but as I wanted an overall shot and a detail, this made no difference… I am now completing Part III of my group of articles on Pre-Raphaelite frames, and am in negotiation with the same (UK) museum over the identical issue, with a different painting.
    This morning I received an answer to my similar application to the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, regarding another illustration for Part II, and couldn’t have wished for a kinder and more accommodating reply. It’s the arbitrary nature of the whole business that is so bewildering; also the fact that a museum can somehow regard the global copyright of any image of a specific item as its own, whether it owns the photos or not.
    I wish that I had not, as a matter of courtesy, approached this museum at all, but had just gone ahead and published… damned or not.

  12. Oliver says:

    There is a sense that the so called Business of Art has taken place and became a $ driven. Currently I came across to the artwork in USA. A certain museum really fast re-directed me to an agency that requested a payment for a photograph of artwork to be taken and for the use of that image in my current thesis. The cost of 250.00 pounds made me thinking if it is worth it. The museum received the artwork as a gift, it was photographed as in “low resolution” for cataloging, the copyrights belong to the existing family member, and aware that is an educational purpose, and I still have to pay to use even a tiny image in maximum three hard copies of the thesis.

    Such situation will not make any good for the research and for the artwork. Please note the artwork was produced by the artist from a “far away” continent by the local artist.

    What right the Museum has to place such fees? I wonder what they will say to the artists family’s request…

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  16. Perrier says:

    After working for a major fine arts museum in graphics it was my understanding that access to high quality imagery is a huge conundrum on many fronts. As mentioned, some museums don’t even have the resources to accurately categorize their collections in a digital format. You’d be amazed at the level of disorganization in how museums handle the digital assets of their collections. For one show that included several Impressionist loans from a major European museum, they sent us images of the paintings currently hanging on the walls of their gallery. No studio lighting that a staff photographer would document, no attention to detail.

    Another element of museums not wanting to share digital imagery comes down to licensing of individual artists (Picasso is a great example) and producing store products. No museum wants public access to high quality images of any of their works because then visitors could just print their own postcard or poster without having to purchase an official one from the museum store. It’s unfortunate that education outputs get shafted but it does come down to more concrete tangibles and money.

  17. sarahawatts says:

    Even if slides were still available, we’d still have to pay for them. Museums and galleries have to pay for the upkeep and conservation of the artworks and the majority of art institutions are in the process of making their artworks available to view online, which students could then view at school library computers if the images aren’t available for download. It’s just a very slow process to have the artworks digitally photographed, uploaded to the institution’s system all the while ensuring due diligence re: the copyrights. Even services such as ARTStor have to pay to use the images so it’s only fair that people and institutions pay to access ARTStor. We can’t just snap our fingers and expect huge institutions to immediately be able to meet public demand using a completely different technology. I have a Master’s in Art History and while I’d love to be able to continue using ARTStor, JSTOR etc I accept that I have to pay separately because I’m no longer in university. I also work at a gallery and we are currently trying to make our collection available to the public online, but it is a long and arduous process. Not just copyright issues but the actual process of digitizing and uploading. So to say “the study and appreciation of art’s history is being thwarted by outdated, artificial restrictions on documentary photographs of works of art in the public domain” is unfounded and unfair.

  18. You seem to conflate Wikimedia Commons (for which you give a wrong link) with Wikipaintings, which is quite a different project.

  19. theframeblog says:

    The museum which originally refused me permission to employ my own images has now given me permission – hooray! I don’t know whether this article helped, with all the discussion and publicity it has generated, but I’m very thankful that at least one small anomalous bit of the whole situation has been remedied.
    Thank you!

  20. drdockter says:

    Interesting article, but I don’t see how digital images and their availability differ from “print” images when it comes to cost . As a former work-study student in the acquisitions department of a large university library, I often saw invoices for very expensive slide sets professors ordered as teaching aids, and the prices far exceeded the cost of traditional media, such as books and periodicals. I didn’t notice at the time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the slide images were copyrighted by the company producing the slides. My question is why can’t a university’s holdings of paper slides be converted to digital images? Converting images to digital format would make the images more portable so that other institutions could access them. Maybe institutions need to set up a site where high-quality images could be stored and shared. Those who don’t contribute to the database would pay a small fee to offset administrative costs of maintaining the database. Grants might also be available to help defray costs. I think in these days and times it will take some creative thinking to work out the details so that everyone can benefit from free and cheap access to high-quality images. And that may mean circumventing the “for profits” because their main concern is the bottom line and absolute control of their holdings.

  21. RyanD says:

    I Appreciate the shout out above, but I feel like my point hasn’t yet sunk in: You need to address the resource question! It’s really quite wrong to paint museums as big jerks who are trying to con you, when the reality is many organizations don’t have the time or money to even address these kinds of policy shifts. I’m sure you guys would *love* high resolution perfect images chock-full of metadata, and boy, I’d love to give it to you. But unless you’ve got free hosting (ArtSTOR), or digitization resources to throw at it (digitization grants), or cash money (Rights and Repros), it can be hard for museums to justify the service when we’re trying to keep the catalog system running and emails and keep up with our 12 grant projects, etc. etc.

    On a different note, what about licenses that would require any educational materials developed using the free assets to also be made freely available (on the web in hi-rez™ with perfect metadata)? Surely we’re entitled to reciprocation!

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  25. cclef says:

    “Remember, most of the images we need to teach art history are in the public domain.”

    I’m coming late to this conversation (just seen via an ALA Direct link), but the statement I quote above leads me to believe that Harris and Zucker are clueless about copyright law or are not mindful of the work/image distinction. Unless said images are those published before 1923, it’s highly unlikely they are in the public domain. Rights for images published after 1923 are usually held by the publisher, or if an image is not published, the creator or photographer (of the artwork) holds the rights.

    True, museums usually hold the copyright to photos of works in their collections, and they seem to like to sell the reproductions in their gift shops to generate a little revenue. Furthermore unless a museum has no need for additional funding, maintaining and licensing use rights for such images sounds like a sensible fiscal strategy.

    As for ARTstor not being freely available to the entire universe, I doubt the slide collection in your university or museum had free open public access either. And unless permission was received to perform copy stand photography of published images, it was technically illegal to produce and retain copy stand slides save for a broad interpretation and lax enforcement of the four-factor fair use provisions. ARTstor is possible precisely because it limits access to bona fide users and uses under Title 17.

    And of course we all want everything to be free, especially if it’s digital “information.” But get real, we still live in a capitalist society where even youtube cat videos get monetized.

  26. cclef, since Beth and Steven cite a particular academic article regarding copyright law, it might be more constructive—not to mention more credible—if you responded to that specifically rather than simply calling them “clueless.” (And it would be more polite for you to address the authors directly in your reply to them.) I also find the argument to “get real” about “liv[ing] in a capitalist society” to be…well…not an actual argument. The vast majority of museums are not capitalist entities. They are non-profit organizations that exist to promote a mission. And that mission is specifically to increase access to art.

    If you would like to make an argument about the economics of museums and their need for revenues, then please make that argument and provide specifics. If you would like to make the case that the Kenneth Crews article that they cite is incorrect on legal grounds, then please make that case. But whatever you do, please be respectful to the authors, who have chosen to forgo the YouTube cat video route and provide their content without any monetization, under a Creative Commons license, for the benefit of everyone.

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  29. Geof Kirby says:

    Sure the economics of running museums on shrinking budgets plays a part. The need for control by keeping some artworks out of the public domain stops them being debased by popular culture. This is not an elitist argument. It is that art, without control over its reproduction, is so easily commercially exploited to the prejudice of the custodians or owners of the artworks and, indeed, the respect the artworks deserve. Case in point is the over-exploitation of Che Guevara’s image on T-shirts and coffee mugs.
    I speak as a practising photographer who understands the direct relationship between cost and respect. I include the observance of copyright in my definition of respect.
    When museums exert control, two principles come into play. The first one is an agreement on usage – this keeps out the exploiters and the second one is remuneration. That academics needing materials for teaching or instructional purposes get caught up in this is unfortunate – and I use the term tentatively – but I see no valid argument for free use of artworks when everyone else in the educational chain is either being paid or has to pay. Museums are the custodians of our culture and our history and each request for a digitised aspect of it has a cost basis. Academics calling for the free dissemination of quality material are already falling into the fallacy of believing that if the work is already done then there is no responsibility to pay.

  30. Happily, copyright law makes a distinction between tee-shirt vendors and educators.

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