Who owns an image? #buildingpassions

One of the most interesting findings from self-publishing my forthcoming book (short title ‘Building Passions’) on the 19th-century Brunels and Barrys is that sourcing images is complicated!

I could probably write a separate book about this but below are some bullets.

  • My editor quite rightly advised me to start sourcing images early in the process. It has probably taken me about 4 months and there is still one outstanding one to be licensed.
  • People and organisations have different policies for licensing images ranging from free, no hassle to costly and complex! This seems to bear little relevance to the provenance of the image …
  • The internet has taken the lead in encouraging the shared use of free images through Creative Commons and similar schemes.
  • Certain images of well-known privately-owned buildings e.g. the Burj Khalifa and the Shard are copyrighted, but in the case of the Eiffel Tower while you can use a daytime image freely, you can’t use a nighttime one as the electric lighting is trademarked …
  • Non-fiction works are therefore more costly to publish so if you want to spend less, write fiction and include your own illustrations.

I am sympathetic to living producers of genuine artistic objects who need to be recognised and rewarded for their efforts, in order to allow the creative design process to flourish.

However, I am less sympathetic to others outside this category, particularly archives and agencies that charge self-publishers large sums for the reuse of their images, many of which may have outlived their ‘real’ copyright needs.

I think we need to strike a balance here, as with many areas of life. If not, one day perhaps everything we see will be labelled ‘not for reuse’, including ourselves. See this intriguing piece about copyrighting the tattoos of famous sports personalities …

Author: Nick von Behr

I've been blogging since 2012 under different guises and on a range of topics mainly linked to education, but more recently focusing on the history of civil engineering and architecture. I have written a book on the 19th-century Brunel and Barry families of successful architects and civil engineers who built the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Paddington Station and the Royal Opera House in London and the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. www.buildingpassions.co.uk

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