Friday, April 3, 2009

Permission to Reproduce Museum Works

Dear Rich: I am a U.S. citizen temporarily living in Paris for a couple years. I want to make good use of my time by putting together a guidebook to all the museums in town. I'd like to include photos of both the front facade of the museums as well as of some select pieces on display within. Do I have to secure the permission of each museum to do this? [Note: Corrected 4/7/09] I'm so glad you asked. You may need permission to photograph the facades and appearance -- see our blog entry -- and the museum may control the right to reproduce photos of the items on display. Sometimes the museum controls the copyright under an agreement, and sometimes it has nothing to do with copyright; it's all about access -- that is, if you want to enter the museum, you must agree not to photo inside. That's often because museums earn substantial revenue from the sale of their "official photos"and they may want you to license those. Plus, flash photography can be damaging to many antique works of art (though that doesn't stop some of the less preservation-minded visitors). Even if the museum does not control access or copyright, you will still need permission to reproduce any artwork that is not in the public domain. We wish it wasn't so, but the Dear Rich staff feels a creeping sense of boredom with this answer -- perhaps because we addressed similar issues in this post.