Copyright, Museums, and Licensing of Art Images

by Kenneth Crews on June 27, 2011

This year I completed a study of museum policies and licenses funded by The Samuel H. Kress Foundation.  My work in the issues of copyright ownership, policy options, and appropriate use of art images continues, but in the meantime I am pleased to provide this consolidated list of papers that are the result of the funded project.  Many of the papers and are co-authored with Melissa A. Brown, now at New York University.  For more information about the grant study, see this Interim Report.

The papers and studies:

New Paper Published in July 2012:

"Museum Policies and Art Images: Conflicting Objectives and Copyright Overreaching"
Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal

Abstract: Museums face steady demand for images of artworks from their collections, and they typically provide a service of making and delivering high-resolution images of art. The images are often intellectually essential for scholarly study and teaching, and they are sometimes economically valuable for production of the coffee mugs and note cards sold in museum shops and elsewhere. Though the law is unclear regarding copyright protection afforded to such images, many museum policies and licenses encumber the use of art images with contractual terms and license restrictions often aimed at raising revenue or protecting the integrity of the art. This article explores the extent to which museums have strained the limits of copyright claims and indeed have restructured concepts of ownership and control in ways that curtail the availability and use of art images far beyond anything that may be grounded in the law. This article examines the relevant copyright law applicable to the making and use of reproductions of art images, and it identifies the challenging pressures that museums face as they strive to make policies in the context of law but that also serve the multiple competing interests coming to bear on officials and decision makers inside museums. The article analyzes selected policies from major museums and provides an original construct of forms of “overreaching” that often appear in written standards offered by museums for the use of images. The analysis of policies also demonstrates that museums have choices in the shaping of institutional policies, and that breaking away from familiar policy terms can sometimes better serve institutional and public interests.

“Control of Museum Art Images: The Reach and Limits of Copyright and Licensing”

Click here for the Final Published Version.

Abstract: Many museums and art libraries have digitized their collections of artworks. Digital imaging capabilities represent a significant development in the academic study of art, and they enhance the availability of art images to the public at large. The possible uses of these images are likewise broad. Many of these uses, however, are potentially defined by copyright law or by license agreements imposed by some museums and libraries that attempt to define allowable uses. Often, these terms and conditions will mean that an online image is not truly available for many purposes, including publication in the context of research or simple enjoyment. Not only do these terms and conditions restrict uses, they also have dubious legal standing after the Bridgeman case. This paper examines the legal premises behind claiming copyright in art images and the ability to impose license restrictions on their use.

“Art Image Copyright and Licensing: Compilation and Summary of Museum Policies”

Abstract: This document summarizes and compiles terms and conditions governing image rights and reproduction from fifty art museums in the United States. The sample of museums was selected from among the 193 museums accredited by the American Association of Museums that have a primary specialty in art. For each museum, copyright and image licensing information was obtained from the museum’s website.

“Art Image Copyright and Licensing: Terms and Conditions Governing Reproduction and Distribution”

Abstract: This table provides an overview of the rights and reproduction policies of art museums within the United States as they address the reproduction and distribution of artwork reproductions. It also provides a means for comparing and analyzing how different institutions approach controlling reproduction and distribution when licensing uses of art images.

“Art Image Copyright and Licensing: Terms and Conditions Governing Appearance and Composition of Images”

Abstract: This table provides an overview of rights and reproduction policies addressing the composition and appearance of art images provided by art museums throughout the United States. It also provides a means for comparing and analyzing how different institutions regulate appearance and composition through licensing terms.

“Art Image Copyright and Licensing: Terms and Conditions Governing Third Party Rights”

Abstract: This table provides an overview of the rights and reproduction policies of art museums within the United States as they address the existence of third party copyrights in artwork reproductions. It also provides a means for comparing and analyzing how different institutions approach the issue of third party rights when licensing uses of art images.

“Art Image Copyright and Licensing: Bibliography”

Abstract: This bibliography is the result of a literature review conducted during the summer of 2009 as part of a study of art museum copyright and licensing policies. It collects literature on copyright and licensing issues pertaining to reproductions of works of art, with a particular focus on literature examining the relationship between museum rights and reproduction policies and copyright law. More generally, it includes literature on art and copyright law, examining issues such as notions of originality and the impact of copyright and licensing on the creation of new works of art. While the majority of works in this bibliography are concerned with United States copyright law, it also includes relevant English-language literature on international and comparative copyright laws.

Kenneth Crews

Version 062711
Link to published papers added 032012 and 082412

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