In a move which could transform art publishing, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) is to drop charges for the reproduction of images in scholarly books and magazines. Reproduction costs now often make it difficult to publish specialist art historical material. The new scheme will come into effect early next year.
The V&A is believed to be the first museum anywhere in the world which is to offer images free of copyright and administrative charges. It also intends to take a “liberal” view on what should be deemed scholarly or educational. The new arrangements will normally apply to all books published by university presses. Free images will also be available for exhibition catalogues and journals such as Apollo and The Burlington.
Reproduction fees currently bring in just over £250,000 a year for the V&A, and it is estimated that around half this sum will be lost. However, administering the system eats into the profits, so the real loss is much less. Under the new scheme, publishers will be able to download images directly from the internet. Commercial publications will continue to be charged.
The V&A feels that it is important that readers see images of items in the collection, helping to fulfil its educational role and raise its profile internationally. Images of 25,000 objects in the V&A will be available.
The decision to end charging could well have major implications on art publishing since there will be pressure on other UK museums to follow suit.