'It's a no-brainer'
June 13 2012
The CEO of digital art specialists s[edition], Robert Norton, has written an article for Wired magazine calling on the UK government to persuade museums to abolish reproduction restrictions. Regular readers will know the arguments well from my earlier posts, but Norton also focuses on Yale Universty's experience in liberating itself from the copyright beast:
Now is the time for the coalition government to act boldly and herald in an equally exciting new chapter for the visual arts online: to scrap licensing fees for public-domain works of art. These quasi-copyright assertions and licences are the digital equivalent of museum entry fees, and they prevent us from using, learning from and simply enjoying these art resources.
A digital renaissance in the visual arts is under way. Improvements in screen resolution coupled with faster broadband and more sophisticated digitisation technologies will create compelling ways to access and experience art online. New initiatives such as Your Paintings, a joint effort by the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC to catalogue the UK's collection of 200,000 oil paintings, or the Google Art Project, which has now attracted over 150 museums across 40 countries, allow online visitors unprecedented access to artworks and provide new levels of brushwork detail.
Last year Yale University became the first art institution to announce it would provide licence- and royalty-free access to digital images of public-domain materials in all Yale collections. Far from having a price calculator, it makes no charge for downloading the 20MB, 300dpi TIFF file of any of Yale's public-domain works.
I spoke to Kenneth Hamma, consulting information architect at the Yale Center for British Art, who described the two-step process in adopting this open-access policy. The directors of the museums and libraries first convinced themselves this was the right thing to do partly because the licensing revenues were small, but more importantly because they didn't feel it was their responsibility to determine how these images could be used. After this idea was presented to the officers of the university, they took five minutes to make a decision. It was a no-brainer.