Museums are well aware that ownership of an artwork or craft object does not automatically include ownership of the copyright to the image of the artwork. The copyright is always retained by the artist or designer (unless there is an agreement otherwise).
This is why museums and knowledgeable collectors typically ask the artist to agree to a contract for Non-Exclusive Copyright License.
Museums respect copyright and copyright laws as a matter of integrity and legality. A recent letter from the Kamm Teapot Foundation explains this very clearly. I asked if I could share the information on this post. The issues explained below apply to everyone, but it is quite common for museums, collectors, critics and writers to follow these precepts. The general public or enthusiasts may not be as well informed, hence the BAD, and UGLY issues we see in the AGE of the Internet. But there is much learn from the professionals.
Below is a quote from the letter from the Kamm Teapot Foundation:
"The difficulty for museums" [with current copyright laws] is that it inhibits us from reaching audiences through the usual educational channels. Without your permission, for example, we cannot legally publish educational books, exhibition catalogs, gallery guides, or video tapes that reproduce copyrighted works. The same is true for newsletters, exhibition announcements, and media-covered events in which your work may appear. Further, we cannot authorize other museums wishing to borrow your work to reproduce it for the same purpose. Under the current law, we would have to seek your permission each time we wished to reproduce your work for non-commercial purposes. An inability to secure your permission in advance of a deadline would result in the exclusion of your work from publication."
Do you see how carefully and seriously the Foundation respects the copyright of the artist? I have encountered similar concerns from numerous other museums.
The purpose of the Kamm Teapot Foundation letter was to arrange a non-exclusive copyright license. It explains:. "This transfer is mutually beneficial since it allows us to present your work in a number of aesthetic and educational context to as broad an audience as possible."
The Kamm Teapot Foundation letter also says, it "does not cover reproduction for purposes that are essentially commercial: e.g., postcards, stationery, posters, and the like."
I thought that was very honorable & generous, but not standard. I have had museums use my artwork for calendars, for example. It is kind of a trade off to have images of your art work distributed to new audiences with the validation of the museum name on their publications. I am usually pleased that my name and the title of the artwork is correctly attributed. Remuneration for using images of an artist's work is most likely negotiated by big name artists more powerful than myself.
In the last few years with the expansion of the internet, museums are more likely to post images online of their collections. Putting images online can get really complicated especially as museums and collections are participating on sites such as Facebook or Pinterest pages. This is in a sincere and justified effort to engage a new audience and appear more relevant to a broader spectrum of society. Usually the images are small (and of relatively low resolution), an effective method to protect your work without watermarks.
Some museums actually have restrictions on the use of the images, or ask for a fee for using the images. This presents a great difficulty for writers and critics writing about the work. There is no concept of "fair use" in this ultra-sensitive territory....and no easy answers either.
My approach is to always say yes to use of my images for education, writing and publication. After all, my goal when making the work was to share the work with a larger audience without watermarks, and hope that
Gain perspective about copyright and images
This post (above) includes the informed opinions of noted author, critic and lecturer Garth Clark. He raises the issues surrounding copyright and images. The difficulty for all writers, critics and lecturer's is legally and ethically gaining access to images.
Read the comments on this post as the discussion about watermarks zig zags back and forth. Still three years later, I frown on watermarks. What do you think?