Saturday, March 25, 2023

Brooklyn Museum Navigates Complicated Copyright Issues

Deborah Wythe and Arlene Yu of the Brooklyn Museum write of the painstaking process of making their art collection available online. They speak of the dual challenges the Museum faces as they try to make their art available to a wider audience while simultaneously respecting the intellectual property rights of artists and copyright holders. It’s a highly-commendable approach, endorsing institutional accountability and transparency.

What’s our answer? It’s not perfect. We’ve opted to take what we consider to be a conservative approach: even though some would argue that our posting of images of works online is an example of fair use, we’re seeking explicit permission from artists, in the form of nonexclusive licenses, in order to post anything bigger than a thumbnail.

So we’ve decided to consider anything created after 1922 to be under copyright, even though many works may not actually still be protected. We’ve also decided to approach artists and ask for blanket permission for works created after 1922—again, even though many works may not actually still be protected. Deb is going to blog a bit more about this coming up next.

With these guidelines, we were able to whittle down the number of works needing clearance to about 19,000, and the number of artists/heirs to about 4,300. Since January 2008, six part-time interns have worked on getting clearance, and each intern was allowed to define the artist pool she tried to reach. The intern before me, for example, focused on artists from the early 20th century with more than 50 works in our collection, while I researched artists who were included in our 2007 acquisitions. We’ve cleared about 2,500 works to date.

You can read their comments on the Brooklyn Museum Blog.


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