28 January 2010

Of Art and Copyright

This is going to become a really contentious area:

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.

It would be absurd if the amazing possibilities of digitising museum and art collection holdings were squandered because of a short-sighted and misguided obsession with copyright. We need to nip this in the bud, and get some leading institutions to come out in favour of disseminating their holdings in this way. If we don't we've decades of lock-down in front of us, just when things should be available to all.

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