Thursday, October 4, 2007

Why are museum picture clearance fees so exorbitant?

I've been considering updating and republishing a paperback book I wrote some years ago about the body in western sculpture. The Body in Sculpture is long out of print but there are often a few copies still available on the invaluable secondhand book site ABE and it remains a core text on a number of arts courses and earns me a sprinkling of annual library photocopying royalties.

I've been advised by the packagers of the original edition (above right) that I should consider seeking an academic publisher for any future edition as this would keep the picture clearance fees to a minimum.

This brings me once again to the thorny question of museum publishing rights. Am I wrong to resent having to pay national museums for the right to publish images held in their collections? After all, in writing about their objects in a serious (albeit accessible) way, I am trying to foster a better understanding of the material culture they hold, which surely is an essential part of a museum's founding premise. I can understand museums levying a charge, but surely when those charges become prohibitive, they are shooting themselves in the foot and impairing the progress of visual education. And don't their objects belong to me anyway in some meaningful way?

Finally, were I to re-publish the book under an academic imprint, I would effectively be ring-fencing it into a realm that is largely inaccessible to the common reader at whom the book was originally aimed.

Am I missing something here?

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