High and arbitrary fees

January 23, 2014

Charging high fees for the right to reproduce photographs of out-of-copyright artworks in academic publications is, as Robin Simon has written in the British Art Journal, a “loathsome practice” that obstructs “not only scholarship but also wider familiarity with [museum] collections”. Both the British Art Journal and Jane Masséglia’s opinion article in Times Higher Education (“Snap decisions”, 23 May 2013) cite the British Museum as leading the way in abolishing this practice, saying that it is among those that now offer free use of images.

This seems to be a misrepresentation of British Museum policy. According to its website, the British Museum offers free image use for “reproduction within…an academic and scholarly (peer reviewed) book, journal article or booklet”. This is providing, however, that “the publication is published by an organisation set as a charity, society, institution or trust existing exclusively for public benefit”. As no publisher, academic or otherwise, operates as a charity exclusively for public benefit, this means that in practice the British Museum offers free image use for work published by some academic publishers but not by others, on an apparently arbitrary basis. In my own experience, it waives fees for Oxford University Press and Yale University Press, but not for Ashgate.

At £49.30 plus VAT for the smallest black-and-white single reproduction of a print held by the museum, such fees determine the materials that researchers can afford to work on, narrow the field of enquiry and prevent new scholars from gaining a foothold in university faculties where a long list of publications is a prerequisite to employment.

The British Museum has some way to go before it can be held up as a model of good practice.

Patricia Smyth

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Worried man wiping forehead
Two academics explain how to beat some of the typical anxieties associated with a doctoral degree
A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy