Issue 114/04, p14, 01.04.2014
Anonymous on banning public photography
Why are we all so worried about copyright?

We know how expensive it is to photograph a work in our collections, especially a photo from which you could derive income. We know publishers want the best images and will contact us to get them.

So what are we really worried about?

Why do museums ban visitor photography in their galleries, even in the knowledge that results won’t be good enough for professional use? Research shows that visitors cite social reasons for attending.

So let’s encourage social behaviour – let’s encourage photography.

Let’s see images from our museums on social media, #paintingselfies images used in lecture theatres and hashtags.

First, its free publicity.

Second, it shows galleries and museums are part of everyday life – engaging through social media osmosis; audiences sharing experiences, encouraging more visitors.

We could take it further. Let’s make it a condition of loan, so that we can create the video content, the press and the reach we all want, rather than tying each other’s hands.

In fact, let’s give the images away. Why? Because artists and visitors should be allowed to be inspired, and the sector free to create the kind of interpretation its audiences want.

We all take the risk of possible income loss from the misuse of an image. But this is outweighed by the possibilities that arise when we remove control over the images of our collection. 
One more thing: #stillnoflash.


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MA Member
02.04.2014, 23:02
Some museums do need to loosen the restrictions, but most, apart from art galleries have already, so let's dissect these comments because it was a bit of a paper tiger shoot:

a) It is now simple to take really high publication quality images with a small digital camera. Anyone who can't, should blame themselves not their camera. The idea you need a tripod is nonsense unless the room is particularly dark or the object particularly large or behind glass.

b) Let's see images used in lecture theatres i.e. it's ok for academics to earn a living and universities to charge students £9,000 to access learning opps but museums charging someone to take a photo is seen as wrong. Let's level the playing field before we hand over all museums' USPs. Otherwise, give us an academic's salary, please, and their hours, and may we'd agree with handing over content and collections free of charge.

c) However, the bit that really annoyed me was the one about artists needing to take photographs to be inspired. There is probably only one group of people more concerned about copyright than artists and that's musicians. Artists can even be dead and still demand copyright payments!

d) The old free publicity is a bit of a canard - there is so much stuff on the web already. I am not sure a few more images floating around in the ether will make that much difference. I feel like popping into my local BMW garage and asking 'Can they let me drive off in one of their new cars cos, you know, it's free publicity. You never know someone may see me and want to buy one.'

I am sure we will muddle through to a compromise on photography but blanket bans and free for alls won't work. Instead some galleries and exhibitions will be places where people will be free to take piccies and selfies, whereas in other spaces, we will interact in different ways.
02.04.2014, 14:33
I can understand some of the comments about copyright however, the writer has given a very simplistic view of what they perceive the issues are. Museums ban photography in their galleries for many reasons. Yes, one reason can prevent the perceived misuse of images of their objects. However, museums may not own copyright/reproduction rights for objects they display so it is much easier putting a blanket ban on it. Also sometimes the reason why people take photographs are not so open. Are they photographing rooms and display cases to review at later dates for security reasons? are they secretly photographing visitors/staff? are they just trying to get round paying the museum a fee for use of one of their images? We don't know and for that reason a blanket ban on photograph can appear very justified.

Also, we are developing a community that sees the real world through a camera lens. People are no longer looking at the world but photographing it. There are arguments to be made that museums must adapt their thinking to fit in with this new trend. However, shouldn't museums be more about encouraging people to 'really' study an original item or work of art. This can be better done when not viewed through a camera lens.

I am not saying that one argument is more valid than another but before museums lift bans on photography in them they must understand why the ban is there and what are the risks, and possible loss in income potential.