An International Bar Association conference in London last month entitled "Museums in the Global Enterprise Society: international opportunities and challenges" examined some of the potential problems that institutions may face if further EU copyright legislation currently under discussion in Brussels is pushed through.
The problems, it seems, are arising because owners of works of art, and in particular French owners and their representatives, are lobbying far harder than users, i.e. museums. There is now a real risk that there will be more rights legislation introduced, which will inevitably restrict use by public institutions. At the London conference (hosted by British lawyers Allen and Overy), a strong appeal was made for the Permitted Act concept in copyright law to be expanded to allow for the scholarly and educational functions that works of art fulfil in our museums. At the very least a system should be in place under which owners of copyright cannot refuse point blank to give institutions that own the works permission to reproduce them, as the Léger Foundation has done with the Tate Gallery who had wished to produce a postcard of Léger's "Beer mug". A flat injunction should be replaced by a royalty system. The London conference called for Britain's museums to unite under the aegis of the Museums and Galleries Commission and with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to evolve a joint policy and lobby Brussels.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Tighter copyright?'