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Copy Rights and Wrongs

Back from a long, long time away from home, one of the first orders of business this weekend was sorting (and then hiding from) the accumulated mail.  Over dinner, I read the recent Archival Outlook (a membership publication of the Society of American Archivists); Peter Hirtle’s article caught me up on two legal suits addressing an issue of concern both to photographers and the repositories that have photographic holdings.

Some background: Photographer Anne Pearse-Hocker donated images to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). The museum gave permission to Firelight Media to use selected images in a documentary; they were included in the final cut, uncredited. In 2010 Pearse-Hocker sued both the company and the museum for violating the donor agreement.

Hirtle’s pull quote sums up the issue:

“[the defendant], like many of our users, may not have understood the difference

between the permission given by a repository

and the permission it needed from the copyright owner.”

I’ve run into this concern time and time again – as a photo researcher for The Washington Post; as an archives graduate student, surveying photographers and repositories for a research paper entitled “Policies, Practices & Pitfalls in Institutional Archives: Copyright and Freelance Campus Photography”; as an intern processing photo collections; and as a researcher who wants to produce the goods for the folks who hire me, while at the same time respect repository rules governing reproduction of photographic material.

As a photographer who shoots both for individuals as well as institutions, one of the ways I address this is in the metadata I embed in the images I deliver. I retain copyright – always. You’d have to pay me a bundle and a half for me to give up the copyright. But generally I grant the institutional client full license to download, distribute, print or otherwise publish the delivered images to promote the institution, and I note this in the invoice/contract. However, I’m realizing that this system is murky, so I’m heading off right now to update my standard metadata template to include the licensing info, not just copyright.

And if I’m ever in the position to donate images to a repository, I’ll take a page from the cases laid out in the article and ensure that the deed of gift does not contain conflicting information regarding the donation’s copyright status, as well as clearly defining the license under which the repository can use the images. That would save me, my heirs, and the theoretical repository from much theoretical grief.

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