1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Bridgeman disingenuous in seeking UK test case

Further to last week's news of the National Portrait Gallery's dispute with Derrick Coetzee (see 1709 Blog here), the Bridgeman Art Library should perhaps reconsider its theoretical welcoming of a UK test case to "strengthen [their] position". The Library tells us:
"All images supplied by the Bridgeman Art Library are copyrighted (sic) photographs. The Bridgeman Art Library either owns the copyright in the photograph or acts as the authorised agent of the copyright holder. A licence must be obtained from the Library before any reproduction is made or this will constitute an infringement of copyright. It is important to note that images can contain multiple copyrights."
Reproduction and licensing of photographs of public domain works is one thing, but a quick tour of the Bridgeman site shows images from Craigie Aitchison, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant , Barbara Hepworth (below) and Ben Nicholson (left) and so on and so on and so on. All works currently protected by copyright law. Photos of works such as these, made in the course of a business cannot possibly be "fair use" under US law. And to what extent does Bridgeman work hand in hand with copyright owners upon whose works they build their business, to enable owners to be paid? Not with all the owners of protected artistic works that Bridgeman offers - to this writer's certain knowledge.

The Bridgeman makes no representation as to title in the works photographed. The Library's Terms and Conditions (UK) state that "The Supplier does not make or give either expressly or impliedly any warranties that any rights to Reproduce the Paintings depicted in the Photographs have been granted nor does it purport to grant the same nor does it warrant that no third parties own rights in the Paintings therein depicted. The copyright holder concerned must be approached and their permission must be sought by the Client." So, over to you, Licensee.

But licensees of any "licensed"images are required to pay Bridgeman to use the photographs and provide the library with "complimentary copies of the publication in which the Reproduction appears in the quantity to be specified by the Supplier [Bridgeman]". Aggrieved copyright owners and estates of deceased artists whose works are being "licensed", see the works being issued for value for use by third parties but must passively wait for users to approach them offering to pay a licence fee. The Library is in a position to identify usage information to copyright owners for protected works, photographs of which have been licensed by Bridgeman. Does this always happen? Letter before action anyone?

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