William Wilberforce by Sir Thomas Lawrence (oil on canvas, 1828) is now available for free through the changes to academic licensing. © National Portrait Gallery

NPG changes image licensing to allow free downloads

Rebecca Atkinson, 22.08.2012
Fees waived for non-commercial and academic uses
The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has made changes to its image licensing to allow free downloads for non-commercial and academic uses.

The change means that more than 53,000 low-resolution images are now available free of charge to non-commercial users through a standard Creative Commons licence.

And more than 87,000 high-resolution images are available for free for academic use through the gallery’s own licence. Users will be invited to give a donation in return for the service.

Tom Morgan, head of rights and reproductions at the NPG, said: “Image licensing is really important to the NPG and across the sector, and we’ve always been keen to carefully manage the balance between what we make available for free and what we charge for.

“Obviously this is quite complex – on one hand, if people are making money from a museum’s content then it’s right the museum should share that profit but we also want to support academic and education activity. So we took the opportunity to look at the way in which we could deliver this service and automate it.”

The gallery previously charged for the use of high-resolution images. It reported £334,000 in revenue from reproduction rights in 2011/12. Following costs of £222,000, this left a profit of £112,000.

Margins on licensing sales at the NPG have increased from 13% in 2009/10 to 34% in the last financial year.

The new licenses for non-commercial and academic uses were introduced last month. Morgan told Museums Journal that it was too early to know what impact this will have on revenue.

But he said that the introduction of a new automated interface for all downloads will simplify operations and reduce the costs per transaction. There are also plans to look at ways to increase commercial downloads in order to continue to fund the digitisation of the gallery’s collection. 

In 2009, the NPG challenged a US-based Wikipedia volunteer who downloaded more than 3,000 high-resolution images from the museum website. At the time the NPG said it was "concerned that potential loss of licensing income from the high-resolution files threatens its ability to reinvest in digitisation".

To date, the gallery has digitised about 100,000 images, representing about one third of its collection. Morgan said that with funding for digitisation getting harder to find, the revenue generated from image licensing was “more important than ever”.

The NPG is jointly leading a project with the British Museum exploring the possibility of centralising image licensing and rights management for the sector. The Museums Digital Content Exchange project was produced in response to the Hargreaves Review on intellectual property (pdf) and is reported in Copyright Works: Streamlining copyright licensing for the digital age (pdf) by Richard Hooper and Dr Ros Lynch.

Comments