Blanket licensing scheme could be copyright solution

The Museums Copyright Group (MCG) is in talks with the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) about the introduction of a blanket licensing scheme for the non-commercial use of digitised images.
Patrick Steel
In return for a fee, museums would be able to clear non-commercial-use-copyright for collections through the DACS, rather than having to individually negotiate the rights for each work.

Angela Murphy, the manager of the Courtauld Images Project at the Courtauld Institute of Art, said: 'Although we want artists and others to maximise the benefit they get from copyright laws, we are also increasingly aware that the same laws are hindering our ability to educate our students. The majority of artists are sympathetic to our activities - but the costs of finding and contacting individual artists is prohibitive.

'Currently, copyright law isn't at all helpful in resolving this problem, so we are very enthusiastic about the possibility of having a blanket agreement that allows us to work together. Nevertheless, it will have to be on the right terms, otherwise we won't be able to afford it.'

The negotiations are still at a very early stage, but are being carried out in a 'positive spirit', according to John Robinson, the director of services at the DACS.

The MCG has issued a questionnaire to assess the impact of any agreement which it hopes will provide data to bolster the negotiations.

Peter Wienand, the chairman of the MCG, said he hoped that an agreement could be reached soon after spring next year, assuming that the questionnaire indicated that the sector felt positively about the scheme. The questionnaire will also provide an insight into how wide the scope of any licence would need to be.

Wienand thought the biggest issue would be the 'hundreds of thousands' of unprovenanced documentary photographs held in local and national archives across the UK. 'If there is no copyright information found for them, then there is nobody to whom the money can be paid,' he said.

Current laws put the onus on archive owners to trace the copyright holder. This is often impossible and results in the images left unused. Weinand is hoping that the scheme might resolve this issue.

If the negotiations are successful, the MCG might consider exploring the possibility of a further scheme to cover commercial use of digitised images, he said.

Patrick Steel

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