National Gallery and British Museum follow V&A’s lead

Leading organisations to abolish reproduction charges for scholarly publications


UK institutions are starting to follow the lead of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in abolishing charges for reproducing images in scholarly publications. A year ago, we reported that the V&A had decided to allow free reproductions for academic journals and books with a print run of under 4,000 (December 2006, p1).

Figures for July-September 2007 show that the V&A licensed slightly fewer paid images (467) for publications, compared with the same period in 2006 (492), and this generated £28,000. This summer it was possible for users to download images free of charge, and although the vast majority were for private study, rather than for scholarly publications, 2,170 images were downloaded during the three months. A total of 40,000 images are available online.

The National Gallery introduced a similar scheme in October and the British Museum is to follow suit later this month.

Tate, however, “does not intend to make any immediate changes”, although it does offer reduced charges for academic publications. The National Portrait Gallery has also decided against free images. But its spokesperson added that if the V&A model proves successful, then “we would be keen to find ways to implement something similar”.

In New York, the Metropolitan Museum began to offer free digital images for 1,700 items last March. Director Philippe de Montebello said his museum wanted to make images available “to play a pioneering role in addressing one of the profound challenges facing scholars in art history, and scholarly publishing, today”.

Editor Gillian Malpass, of Yale University Press (the largest publisher of academic art books), described the V&A initiative as “undoubtedly a good one”. But she added that “there is still some way to go both in terms of comprehensiveness of the images that are available and their technical quality”.