Requests for photographs

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    • #133374

      We receive a number of requests for old photos of our community. Mostly we have digital images. Do other museums charge for use of the images, and if so, how much? Is the cost different for individuals and commercial uses? Is it suggested to grant one-time use of the digital image, or to produce a physical photograph for the requestor?

    • #133386
      Carolyn Frisa

      My local public library also has a large number of requests for digital images from their historic photographs collection. Their policy is to ask for a donation for the use of images and this money goes straight into a conservation/preservation fund. This has worked very well for them.

    • #133385
      Vern Raven

      All our images are digitized on Past Perfect. Anyone coming into the museum has free access to view them on line. To print or email a photo we charge $3.00 each. – Vern Raven, Director Mansfield Historical Museum.

    • #133384
      Janean Van Beckum

      We charge $13 for 8×10 and $26 for 11×17. We use an outside printer for larger sizes. All photos are on a professional grade printer, so we can charge more. Digital copies are the same price and we limit reproductions of the digial copy. In our area, these are pretty standard prices. We also have use contracts, and special circumstances if it is a corporation ordering or if it is for public display or publication. We have been doing this for several years and have come up with a contract for sevreal different circumstances. Because of the work and cost of curating over 16000 photographs we are pretty protective of their use.

    • #133383
      Ron Kley

      Quite apart from the issue of whether, or how much to charge, historical organizations should pay more attention to whether they actually own the copyright to photos that may be in their collection. Legal ownership of a photo (i.e., by way of a signed deed of gift document)does NOT automatically include ownership of the copyright unless that copyright has been specifically conveyed along with the physical print, negative, slide, film or whatever.
      As a pragmatic matter, you can probably get away with selling copies of old photos at least 99% of the time. It’s that 100th time that has the potential to bite you where it hurts.

      Ron Kley

    • #133382
      Jessica Huff

      Ron, can you expand on the copyright issue? I was under the impression that if a collection was deeded to an organization, then the organization retains the copyright. I’ve just been put in charge of our local history collection and learning as I go…

    • #133381
      Ron Kley

      Short of getting answers from a lawyer specializing in copyright issues (which I’m definitely not), I think that the best source of authoritative information about copyright law is the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress (

      It’s my understanding that current copyright law provides for the copyright to any photographic image (including prints, negatives, slides and, presumably, digital images) to remain with the creator (photographer) for 100 years unless specifically transferred to another person or entity.

      If I’m correct on this, photos taken before 1912 would be “fair game” for copying, but anything more recent may not be. If the photographer is deceased his/her copyright would devolve to her/his estate, but would not cease to exist until that 100 year period of protection had elapsed.

      There were in the past, and there may still be at present, provisions for renewal of a copyright, so it may not be entirely safe to assume that anything more than a century old is automatically in the public domaine.

      I’m absolutely sure that copyright does not automatically transfer with th sale or donation of an image, unless (A) the seller or donor owns the copyright in the first place and (B) the transfer of copyright, as well as the transfer of the physical image, is specifically mentioned in the bill of sale or deed of gift.

      But don’t take my word for it! Go to the Copyright Office web site and get authoritative information from folks who are paid (with your tax money)to provide it.


    • #133380
      Janean Van Beckum

      You are correct that copyright does not automatically transfer with the object and that if it is to be transfered it has to be clearly stated in the DOG with an understanding that the donor owns the copyright in the first place. A good resource is “A Museum Guide to Copyright and Trademark” by AAM In may instances the donor doesn’t own the copyright and cannot legally transfer it. The way we partially get around the copyright issue (although we do own the clear rights to most of our collection) is by saying we are charging for the service of copying, not the copy of the photograph itself. I don’t understand all the legalities, but our lawyer says it is an additional way to protect ourselves. In addition, we don’t make copies of images if we don’t hold copyright or are unsure if they are in the public domaine. These are flagged in PastPerfect so it is easy to spot.

    • #133379

      We offer prints and digital images to anyone who submits a request. All requests are to be in writing using our Reproduction and Usage Agreement, There are no restrictions on image size or number of images that can be requested.

      As per copyright, we make every attempt to notify a researcher if there may be a copyright issue. There are very few collections in the archives where the status is questionable. We either own the rights, will have the rights transferred within a specific period of time, or the items have been determined to be in the public domain. For donated collections, we really try to have everything spelled out in the DOG. We are not above coming straight out and asking a potential donor if they really do have the rights and under what condition were the images taken.


    • #133378
      Leslie Wyman

      I visited with one of our state archivists on the issue of copyright several years ago, and we were told that by clarifying that we’re not making a profit from a copy of a photo or document, but just charging enough to cover paper and toner, it falls under the “Fair Use” ruling/clause/something-like-that for our type of institution. That was in 2009, so may have changed since then.

    • #133377
      Lou Morgan

      TWO REASONS to charge a fee when a photo is requested. 1) Organizations can charge a nominal REPRODUCTION FEE for the time and resources it has taken to digitize, make available, then time and resources to make a good photo copy or send a low res. version over email. Communication to the requestor that this does not give them rights to reproduce it is important. [small funds to help continue digitizing photos]

      2) Organizations that have an image where the requester is going to publish it, reuse it, sell it on postcards, etc. and they own copyright OR even if it is an older out of copyright image can still charge a USAGE FEE. Higher amount if it is for commercial purposes or sales purposes. Lower amount or no fee at all if for a non-profit – you choose. Communication to a requester about one time usage for a usage fee is also important. An example is: a stock photo company getting a high resolution file of one of your photos and selling it repeatedly where they get the profits; or a non-profit gardening group getting a good image of one of your wonderful botanical prints and selling it on tote bags, mugs, and cookbooks for 20+ years.

      I think we have a responsibility to educate users/requesters about usage rights and copyrights.

    • #133376
      Patricia Miller

      I think it would be risky to depend on fair use in reproducing photographs for which you do not have copyright. All four factors have to be evaluated (purpose and character of use; nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for the work). As Ron points out, you might get by with it, but you might not. Other factors come into play, including how much effort you have put into searching for the copyright owner. This should be documented. And there are special considerations in regard to digital images.

    • #133375

      We have many photos and limit reproductions to a specific number and charge incidental fees for paper, etc. However we encountered a problem with a local author that used our photos for a for profit book. Neither he nor we had the copyright for those particular pictures and we were told they were for incidental, not for profit use. We were dismayed and disappointed when the historical book came out with our pictures but so far no legal problems. It is a gray area so get signed policy copies to cover the pictures that go out, just in case! These pics were from a local history buff that had published several books which were copyrighted. He had passed away and the heirs probably still have the rights but again, so far, no legal problems. We did learn a valuable lesson however. The advice of a good copyright attorney is a good investment and can usually be had probono for a civic museum.

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