Copyright touches many library services because we collect, share and loan original works fixed in a wide variety of tangible media. The Copyright Resources Center conducted a series of informational interviews with faculty and staff from various areas of The OSU Libraries to discuss the ways in which they engage with copyright issues. This blog series documents those conversations, and highlights how copyright law helps to shape services provided by the Libraries. See all available posts in the series here.

Profile photo of Sarah Falls

Sarah Falls, Fine Arts Librarian

Sarah Falls, Assistant Professor, is the Head of the Fine Arts Library at OSU, and as Fine Arts Librarian, Sarah supports the Departments of DesignArt, History of Art, Arts Administration, Education and Policy, and the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. I met with Sarah to discuss copyright and the arts, and the unique influence copyright exerts on these particular disciplines.

When the Copyright Resources Center works with patrons on using materials legally in their teaching, scholarship, and creative pursuits, we often ask some variation on the question “Do you really need that specific, copyrighted image to accomplish your goal, or to make the point you are trying to make?” If an image is used for general illustrative purposes or just for decoration, we often suggest that the patron look for a public domain or openly licensed alternative that still allows them to accomplish their purpose. However, in the arts (and art history especially) the answer to the question above is usually: “Yes, I really need that specific image.”

Teaching and research in the arts frequently require that an image is a specific, authoritative version or copy of a particular painting, sculpture, or other work. The specific work and specific version are required in order to accomplish one’s educational or research objectives, and alternatives simply will not suffice. This affects scholarship involving both historical and contemporary works – potential users of certain works still face access and contractual restrictions even when a particular work is in the public domain and copyright is no longer a factor.

Questions about copyright and the arts?

Research consultations: Sarah assists patrons at the Fine Arts Library with navigating the permissions process and its quirks specific to the art world. Contact Sarah to schedule a consultation to discuss your research and rights clearance questions.

Class visits: Contact Sarah to schedule a session for your class on rights clearance and publishing images.

Workshops: Sarah and the Copyright Resources Center previously taught a workshop on Publishing Images in the Digital World and plan to offer the session again; upcoming workshops are announced on our blog).

Museums, artists’ estates, other institutions, and even some libraries act as gatekeepers to the works in their collections and often charge expensive fees for high resolution, publication quality copies of the works in their collections. These institutions are often the only source of these authoritative, high resolution copies of many significant artistic works and students and scholars must be able to navigate the permissions process in order to proceed with their thesis, dissertation, or other research they hope to publish.

Scholarship in the arts tends to be very image heavy. Publications (especially monographs) often require many images to illustrate the scholar’s arguments, and each of those images typically requires the scholar to engage in time consuming and expensive rights clearance. Sarah notes, “Writing an art history book with lots of images could end up costing the scholar thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time.” Due to reduced funding, this money often comes out of the scholar’s own pocket, or out of any advance payment she might have received from the publisher of her book. Another effect of this paradigm can be seen in library collections and publishing trends: art history eBooks are still very rare due to the incredible expense of licensing the necessary images.

Some museums and other institutions have more generous options for students, and will provide the image for free or a reduced fee, but if that student wants to reuse the same image in later work, he will have to return to seek additional permissions. Other institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art have developed programs to facilitate scholarship and education in the arts. For example, the Met’s Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC) program makes selected public domain materials in their collection available for download and reuse in scholarship and education. This provides a tremendous benefit to students and scholars, but also begs our return to the question posed at the beginning of this blog post. If the specific image and specific version (e.g. resolution, dimensions) of that image is not available through open access, the student or scholar is out of luck and must embark on the long and expensive road to permissions in the arts.

This blog has presented a snapshot of the impact copyright has on just one area of the Libraries. Copyright affects libraries and higher education in a multitude of ways, often with idiosyncrasies particular to various subjects and disciplines. Additional posts in this series explore other instances in which copyright affects library services and collections; you can see all available posts in the series here.



By Jessica Chan, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries