Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Permission to Use Museum Pictures

Dear Rich: If I receive permission from a museum to reprint a picture of their building and a picture of a sculpture or artwork, am I to assume that they have the necessary permission from the creator of the artwork or building, as well as the photographer of the given piece? How many permissions do I need? Speaking of permissions and museums, the Dear Rich Staff wishes we could get permission to show you some photos from this exhibit. Our staff reports that it’s quite a mind-blowing event. Which reminds us of when our staff was younger and we used to go up to Berlin, New Hampshire and visit an uncle who worked at a paper mill and that's where we learned how to make paper pulp. All very fascinating stuff.
Right, you had a question.  When it comes to permissions, don’t assume anything; ask what rights are being conveyed and get the response in writing. As for using the picture of the museum, you’ll need permission from the photographer and assuming it’s a publicly viewable building, that’s probably all that’s necessary. (More on that, here.) It’s possible that the museum may have acquired the rights from the photographer so in that case, all is well, as long as the permission states that. It's wise to include a warranty -- a short statement in which the museum assures you that it has the rights described. If the museum doesn’t have rights from the photographer, you'll need to contact the photographer or whoever was assigned the rights.
The picture of the artwork. As for the artwork, you'll need permission from the artist and the photographer of the artwork. Again, the museum may have been assigned these rights and that should be expressed in the permission. By the way, slavish photographic reproductions of public domain artworks may not always be entitled to their own copyright. (We talk about it here). In other words, it’s possible that a photographer may not get a separate copyright simply for creating an excellent replication of a painting.