Gina Glascock-Broze has worked for more than five years in rights and reproductions with local, national, and international artists, studios, galleries, rights agencies, and museums as a project manager of artist copyright permissions and photographic material for various clients, including non-profit groups, museums, and publishing houses. She is interested in the many complexities of copyright law, gardening, and making pickles. She blogs here: http://smartrights.wordpress.com/
Can you sum up for me what you do and how you got started?
I would like to be able to say that image sourcing and copyright permissions are pretty straightforward, but they aren’t, really. I help museums or publications secure photography and image/copyright permissions for the works they want to reproduce in a catalog or as part of an exhibition. This entails working with the catalog’s checklist, contacting the museums or owners of the works of art to ask for photography, and contacting artists or their estates for copyright permissions on works that are not in the public domain. It sounds easy, but when you think of it as part of a major catalog with 200–300 images, and add in all the decision changes to the design and the artworks that will appear, and then add in all the research it takes to find out who owns the copyright (not to mention the understanding of what copyright is), it can be quite daunting.
I started by working for the Seattle Art Museum. As exhibitions and publications coordinator, I had to research images and coordinate permissions for catalogs. I always liked the research, tracking artists down, and figuring out what we needed and how we were going to get permissions to do it. I still get a thrill when I get a letter from a famous studio or artist’s estate. It’s like, “Oh wow—Gilbert and George are writing to me!” It’s fun to get mail from famous artists. Later at SAM, I became the rights and reproductions administrator responsible for all non-commercial rights clearance for the museum and the management of image rights for external requests.
How did you begin working with Marquand Books?
I started working with Marquand Books when I worked at the Seattle Art Museum. Marquand Books was often the publisher of the catalogs I worked on as exhibitions and publications coordinator. Later, my former boss at SAM recommended me when MB needed freelance permissions work done.
Are there many freelancers doing the sort of work you do?
I don’t know exactly—there are some. I know some of the larger museums I do freelance work for have other freelancers working on other projects at the same time. It is a job for which you need a certain amount of experience to do, and at many larger museums there is an in-house rights and reproductions person, so there are a number of people with the right experience. How many freelance, I couldn’t say. In commercial publishing there are many freelancers, I believe.
How have image permissions changed in the last decade or so?
I can only speak to museums or educational/non-profit image permissions changing, since I really haven’t worked on the commercial side of permissions at all. The one thing that has changed dramatically in the past ten years is digital rights. In the early days of the web, museums and artists were very afraid to give rights to anything digital, thinking that they would lose all control as soon as an image was out there in cyberspace. But understanding of this has evolved, and now it is completely normal to request e-book rights or web rights for publishing copyright-protected images.
Also, just last year, the American Association of Museum Directors (AAMD) finally came out with a long-awaited statement on fair use—basically a statement of policy for member organizations—with regard to the use of thumbnail images of artworks in museum collection. It might seem silly that a museum couldn’t put small ID images on their website of works of art in their collection if they were under copyright, but as long as websites have existed, museums have been afraid of being sued if they put even the smallest of images of the work in their collection on their website. The AAMD policy means that finally museums can stand together with a common policy on using these thumbnail images. It seems small, but it is actually a big change.
How about e-books?
E-book permissions are pretty much the same as regular permissions these days. The only difference is that you have to be able to lock down access to the e-book—it is only available on one website, not downloadable, etc., and the term of the license is different: instead of printed copies, you have access for a period of years—stuff like that. But e-books are definitely on the rise. Many large museums have a policy that blanket-requests e-book rights for all catalog publications. This is really new to me this past year.
What’s the toughest part?
The toughest part is to be on the far end of all the changes that take place when work on a publication is underway. I’m not in the room where the decisions are being made, yet every change to an image has an effect on what I do. So there is a lot of back and forth, usually hundreds and hundreds of emails; you have to be very organized.
Where do you see image permissions headed? Any future challenges or changes?
I see a lot more of the permissions/image sourcing being shifted to freelancers like me. Museums are wildly understaffed, and if they can add to their exhibition/publication budgets the fees for copyrights, image fees, and a freelancer to do all the work for them, they can fundraise for the whole project and not spend their precious few internal resources trying to do a Herculean task.
However, I also sort of hope that one day I see an end to my profession. I would love to see a world in which museums and not-for-profit entities can use copyrighted images for educational purposes—like catalogs—under fair-use, without the threat of being sued; a world where all museums open up their digital libraries and make images easily available to other museums and not-for-profits for free without a lot of burdensome contracts and licenses. Unfortunately, given the current state of copyright law, I don’t think it is going to happen any day soon—but one can hope.
[Originally posted on July 14, 2011]
Image © Robert Wade Photography