April 9-12, 2008
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Demonstrations: Description

Providing freely downloadable images to the academic community

Sarah Winmill, Victoria & Albert Museum, United Kingdom

In April 2003 the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) made available online approximately 4,000 images of objects within its collection to be searched and viewed (see Over time this grew to 27,000 works represented in over 43,000 available images. Initially these were only at the low resolution of 768 pixels. Print-quality images were available through the museum’s photograph library but publishing fees were levied. Even though these fees were less than commercial charges they were often criticised by the academic press. That started a debate in the museum which revealed tensions between the obligations of a publicly funded body and the trend towards open access on the one hand, and the need to earn revenue on the other. It was decided to allow public users to download high resolution images for specific uses, with the intention of supporting academic publishing.

While the V&A owns the copyright of all the photographic images, it does not own the copyright on the objects depicted in those images so it was here that there was a risk of infringement. The existing ‘Search the Collections’ site already included some copyright material for which specific licences had been obtained to grant non-commercial or educational use at low resolution (768 pixels). However, there were insufficient resources available to make it possible to approach every copyright holder to ask for a licence for high-resolution images. Instead, all known copyright objects were flagged as not available for download. It required significant curatorial effort to take all reasonable measures to ensure copyright was not infringed on the remaining objects as the V&A holds a collection of four and a half million items and very little is known about some of these. Where information did exist, rule sets were developed to allow the bulk setting of copyright ‘flags’. The rules used were as follows:

Images were flagged as still in copyright where:

  • an artist was known to have died after 1936; or
  • an artist with no known death date was known to have been born after 1936.

Images were flagged as out of copyright where;

  • an artist was known to have died in or before 1936; or
  • an artist with no known death date was known to have been born before 1830; or
  • there was no birth or death date for the artist but the object was made before 1830.

Objects made by individual artists (rather than institutions) not covered by the developed rules were listed and the artist information individually checked by curators. From this known or approximate birth/death dates could be indicated. For example: ‘definitely dies before 1936 but not sure when’. This information was then used to flag the records. After much curatorial effort some ‘orphan’ works still remain. These will be checked and flagged as information is discovered. We believe

that we have taken all reasonable measures over this crucial question of copyright. We also make it clear that if an object is in copyright and the owner lets us know, we will remove it.

In June 2007, following the work on copyright flagging, the V&A added the functionality to ‘Search the Collections’ which enabled ‘privileged usage’ of A5 print-quality electronic images of the objects in the Museums collections. The museum has defined ‘privileged usage’ as:

  • academic/educational/scholarly publications
  • scholarly journals
  • student theses
  • private study and research
  • critical editorial use
  • charity, society and trust newsletters.

Conditions under which ‘privileged usage’ would apply were defined as:

  • a print-run or under 4,000
  • one-time use only
  • inside publication use only (i.e. not for book jackets or cover pages)
  • reproduction of images up to A5 size only
  • all images must be credited: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • no copyright or proprietary right is conveyed with the use of any image downloaded from this site
  • images may not be passed on for third-party use
  • images may not be used on any electronic media
  • images may be cropped but not changed or manipulated in any way without written permission from V&A Images
  • where the number of images to be reproduced exceeds 25 per cent of the total number of illustrations used in the Licensed

Material, V&A Images must be notified in advance. Service users are asked to register to download print quality images and are asked to accept the terms and conditions of use. A log is kept of all images downloaded so, in the event of a breach of conditions, an audit trail exists to link the user to the image.

In the first three months the service was used by visitors to the site from the UK and abroad, with most coming from academic organisations. Over 500 images were downloaded each month, with the average user downloading three images.

At that time the service had not been advertised.

Demonstration: Demonstrations - 2 [Demonstrations]

Keywords: image, free, academic, download, intellectual property rights