Tales from the World of Image Rights in 5 Levels

The following overview is not exhaustive. However, it does cover most of the situations that arise in day-to-day practice.

Level 1

All of the artists whose works are illustrated in a publication have been dead for more than seventy years. All of the works and reproductions were made available by the museum that is issuing the catalogue. No special conditions are attached to the use of works provided by donors or lenders. Under these circumstances, everything should run smoothly.

A Note on Indoor and Outdoor Presentations:
As a rule, no approval is required to exhibit works of art in public, and photographs of such works can be made at no charge. But there is one exception: if a sculpture, for example, is shown in a park for which admission is charged, Levels 2 through 5 apply.

The artists whose works are to be photographed for the catalogue are still alive or have died within the past seventy years. In this case, permission must be requested from the artists or their legal successors.

A request can be made through VG Bild-Kunst, for instance, an agency that represents a large number of artists. If the works to be illustrated in publications or catalogues produced for German museums are those of foreign artists, VG Bild-Kunst negotiates with the corresponding partner agencies abroad (such as ARS in the United States, Pro Litteris in Switzerland, or ADAGP in France). If catalogues are produced for exhibitions outside Germany, requests must be addressed to the partner agencies of VG Bild-Kunst.

Artists or administrators of artists’ estates not represented by VG Bild-Kunst must be approached directly.

Regardless of whether requests are made through VG Bild-Kunst or directly, illustrations of works may not be printed without permission—and this also applies to illustrations of works used for comparisons. Contrary to popular opinion, the citation character of a reference illustration, no matter how small it may be, does not exempt the publisher from the obligation to obtain permission to print.

Exemptions/Rebates:
If the artist is willing to give up all or part of his fee (which he is entitled to do, even if he is represented by VG Bild-Kunst), he may grant the museum a rebate or an exemption.

The Time Factor: 
You should be prepared for the fact that some artists or estate administrators will make special requests or impose specific requirements—aside from the perfectly understandable desire to receive complementary copies of the book. In some cases, they may stipulate that only reproductions supplied by the artist/estate can be used, and/or that press proofs be presented for approval. Thus careful planning is an absolute must.

It would seem that the simplest and least expensive way to obtain reproductions would be to simply scan them from high-quality publications or download them from the Internet. That is not an option, however, because it is illegal.

In most cases, there is a good photographer behind every good reproduction, and that photographer will ordinarily want to be asked for permission, cited, and paid. The procedure used in these cases is the one described under Level 2.

If you plan to use photographs provided by a museum, you should ensure that the museum is cited in the photo credits.

Owners of works work—museums, galleries, or private collectors—are frequently unwilling to accept the role of mere suppliers of reproductions. They see themselves as representatives of the artist’s interests. And for this reason you should be prepared for the same kinds of special requests from owners you would expect from artists or estate administrators.

While it is always important to obtain permission to use works of art from the individuals who created them, it may also be necessary in some cases to request approval from people who are shown in these works. Thus the matter of privacy rights should also be clarified in such cases.

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