Britain to get wider access to digital art

July 30, 1999

Britain could soon follow the United States in a groundbreaking deal between librarians and copyright societies to make digital images of 20th-century art more widely available to universities and colleges.

The US Artists Rights Society (ARS) has granted a consortium of 50 museums and galleries a North American licence to include digital images of copyrighted works of artists and estates in a special resource service it makes available for research and teaching.

The service, the Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) Library, is available to subscribing institutions. In return for the use of copyrighted works of art in the service, AMICO will share with ARS a proportion of royalties based on its subscription income. The library has no plans to change its subscription fees to accommodate the agreement -- in fact it expects the cost of subscriptions to go down over time as content is added to the image library and as the number of subscribing institutions increase.

ARS represents the interests of more than 20 visual artists' rights organisations worldwide. The membership lists of these organisations include Georges Braque, Wassily Kandinsky, Man Ray and Marcel Dunchamp. In addition, the society represents the estates of many giants of art including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Rene Magritte. Individual American artists on its books include Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.

ARS's counterpart in Britain, the Design and Artists Copyright Society, welcomed the move and says it too, in collaboration with librarians and bodies such as the Copyright Licensing Agency, is exploring ways to make digital images of works of art more widely available to education establishments in the UK.

DACS's chief executive Rachel Duffield said: "The US agreement clearly affects access to modern and contemporary works of art, which must be applauded. As a service industry to the arts, collecting societies such as DACS and ARS can assist in guiding institutions through the copyright maze to ensure that art is available legally under licence to all."

Fred Friend of the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries also welcomed the deal and is optimistic that a similar service will be available in the UK soon. But he warned: "As with licensing of digitised text, the take up of images will depend on the price, which with the US deal is at least built in to an existing subscription."

Jennifer Trant, executive director of AMICO, says the deal means the AMICO Library can for the first time fully represent modern and contemporary works held by consortium members without the burden of separate rights clearance.

Those AMICO members whose collections are predominantly comprised of works from these periods will benefit in particular, she says.

"This agreement eases the process of disseminating and accessing digital images of works of art. Individual teachers and students, for instance, will not have to worry about the time-consuming and uncertain process of obtaining additional copyright clearances," she said.

Maxwell Anderson, director of the Whitney Museum, said: "The arts community is navigating through the uncertain waters of copyright legislation in a wired world, so it is very exciting that our major modern and contemporary artists and leading art museums have been brought together in the service of education."

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