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Book Cover

Posted: Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:52 pm
by J. J. Overton
I am writing a novel, for which a painting, displayed and owned by the Science Museum in London, would make an ideal book cover. The artist died in 1812.
I contacted the Science Museum by email and enquired about permission to use their image of the painting for my book cover. The reply stated that I could buy a licence to use the image for £150, which would cover its use for 500 books. I think this is exorbitant.

As I live in the UK., can I visit the Science museum in London, photograph the painting myself, and use my photograph as the basis for the book cover. Would this avoid any infringement of copyright?

Posted: Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:43 pm
by AndyJ

No, there is no copyright in the original now, so assuming that it is on public display, photographing it yourself would infringe nothing. However you may breach the terms of entry for the Musuem by photographing the exhibits. Unfortunately I can't find any mention of their entry conditions on their website so I can't say whether this is or is not the case. However I won't tell them if you don't. :wink:

This whole matter of museums etc charging fairly hefty 'access fees' for digital images of works which are owned by the nation and in the public domain has been much debated (eg here and here). The UK Intellectual Property Office says (see page 3 of this pdf) that there will rarely be copyright in digital images of works which are themselves out of copyright, due to the inherent lack of originality in such images, but of course that doesn't prevent those who can control access to the works from exercising their monopoly in the way you have described. I would be interested to see the Science Museum's licence to discover if indeed they were claiming copyright in this instance.

It is interesting to note that they do have a Creative Commons licensing regime for some of their images but on the basis of what you were told, they clearly also want to exploit other images to the maximum degree. Fairly recently the EU issued a Directive which allowed museums and archives etc to make digital copies of works whose copyright status was unclear because it was impossible to discover or locate the author of the work (so-called orphan works). The directive mandated that such institutions could only charge fees for access to the digital copies which were commensurate with the costs of digitization, and not add any profit. While that Directive doesn't apply in this particular case, its provisions do highlight an ethical mismatch between that process and the one in force for the painting you are interested in.

Use of a painting as a book cover

Posted: Sat Sep 16, 2017 10:58 pm
by J. J. Overton
Thanks for the information, Andy J.


Re: Book Cover

Posted: Tue Mar 06, 2018 3:34 pm
by rmlaws54
I hit a related problem. I had obtained, from the internet, a scan of a photograph from 1870. I wanted to reproduce it in a book quite small - the scan was adequate. I emailed the museum who held the original (in New Zealand) and asked if they were happy for me to do this, pointing out that it was out of copyright. I thought this would be just a polite formality, but they emailed back with a large legal agreement for me to sign and the statement that they required me to buy a high-resolution image for $25.

If they had said "yes that's fine, would you like to make us a donation of $25" i would have done so. But I felt a bit miffed and so I located an alternative picture from Wikipedia rated "public domain".

Was I wrong to feel miffed?


Re: Book Cover

Posted: Tue Mar 06, 2018 4:13 pm
by AndyJ
Hi rmlaws,

No, I don't think you are wrong to feel miffed. While I accept that many museums and other institutions need to generate funds to stay solvent, the way in which they do so could often be improved. As you say, if they had requested a donation that would probably have achieved the same outcome, but in fact they have lost out due to a heavy-handed commercial approach.