Thursday, 21 March 2013

Image Copyright: An Introduction (2)

Our Permissions Controller for the digitisation of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England, Rachael Lazenby, has written an introductory guide to copyright for images, drawing on her experience on this project and on other work that she has done. Part one of Rachael's guide appeared here; the rest of the guide is below.

Copyright and images - an introductory guide, part 2

Rachael Lazenby

Identifying copyright holders, orphan works and due diligence
Frequently publishers will include images which have appeared in other publications. The modern convention is to include a caption with the image which makes it very clear who the copyright holder is and who should be approached for permission to reproduce an image. However, the older the publication, the more likely it is that such information will not be found in a caption. The RCHME volumes, the earliest of which date from 1913, contained copyright holder information in a variety of places. This included the illustration lists, footnotes, and the preliminary materials of the texts as well as in illustration captions. When considering using images from older works it is advisable to check in all these places for information on the copyright holder if the original publisher no longer exists or does not retain rights information on older publications. Internet searches, local history societies and local museums may also be able to help in establishing the copyright status of historical images.

Inevitably there were some images included in the original RCHME volumes whose owners could not be traced. Such images are known as orphan works. Different organisations take different stances on how to approach such images and every organisation will have advice on what constitutes due diligence in attempting to establish a copyright holder.(1) A record should be kept of all efforts made in trying to trace the current rights holder.

Crown Copyright
Crown Copyright applies to images produced by certain UK government bodies and lasts for 50 years. The National Archives has a very informative section on this topic, including a list of bodies whose images now fall under Crown Copyright. Many images which are protected by Crown Copyright can be used if a link appears with the image directing the reader to a ‘click-to-use’ licence.

Fair use and Enforcement
So far I’ve tried to avoid distinguishing between reproducing images for a limited circulation (such as a dissertation) and a wide circulation (such as a paper published in a journal). Theoretically copyright law covers any reproduction of a work regardless of the circulation or the commercial value of the work. Of course in practical terms the greater the commercial value of an image the higher the likelihood that the copyright holder may take legal action to prevent or punish any unauthorised use of their image.

Fair use is a concept which enables students and researchers to provide examples and quotations of other people’s works in essays and papers without first obtaining permission from the originator. Generally speaking quotations tend to pose fewer problems than images and providing they appear in the body of a text and for educational, critical or journalistic purposes, they can be used without express permission.  Most educational institutions and publishers have a legal team who will be able to advise on any concerns you may have about reproducing images. In addition universities will often provide guidance on matters of copyright in student handbooks.

It is important to note that while fair use can be used as a legal defence, copyright is a complex issue, and copyright holders have the right to protect their work from any unauthorised use.(2) Following the principles of fair use will not necessarily prevent a case from going to court. The internet has made it easier to reproduce images without the consent of the copyright holder and the laws covering copyright are constantly evolving in response to new cases.(3) Although the copyright of images of buildings belongs to the photographer or artist, an interesting case went through the French courts a couple of years ago concerning the Eiffel Tower. Photos of the tower at night were deemed to be protected by copyright law as the lighting display constitutes a work of art.(4)

I hope this post has shed some light on the issues surrounding copyright of images. A few key points to take away with you are:

  • Copyright arises in a work, it does not have to be registered.
  • Publicly accessible content is not necessarily in the public domain.
  • Record your efforts to trace copyright holders if you intend on reproducing orphan works.
  • Stay within the guidelines of ‘fair use’ but bear in mind it will not always prevent legal action.
  • Check with your institution’s legal department if you have any doubts about content you intend to use.


(1) This link will redirect to information on the European memorandum of understanding on orphan works retrieved on 22/2/2013.
(2) retrieved on 22/2/2013
(3) The difficulties of dealing with such issues are discussed in these articles on policing the internet:  retrieved on 22/2/2013 

(5) St Swithin’s Church London Stone. This is a Wren church destroyed in the Blitz and not restored. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Our First Photo Winner

In January we launched a photo competition on Flickr to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of British History Online. Because we began mid-way through January, we decided to judge all of January and February's submissions together (there were nearly 200) and pick our first winner. We can't offer a prize, except that the winning photo will be displayed on the BHO homepage for a month, with credit and a link to the photograph on Flickr, of course.

Here I'm going to show the shortlisted photographs, whose owners have kindly sent us low-resolution versions and permission to post them here. Other photographs, which didn't make this shortlist, were also admired by the judges. Our thanks to everyone who entered.

The competition will be running again next month, so there is still time to enter if you'd like to. Simply post read the rules we've set out in the BHO Flickr group and add your photos.

First we'd like to give honourable mention to a photo which was entered by a staff member and so not eligible to win. Fade Away is by Alex Craven, who is the Assistant County Editor for the VCH, Wiltshire series; it shows the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral:

There were five shortlisted photos. Our four runners-up, in no particular order, were:

The Palladian Bridge, in Prior Park, Bath, by shinytreats, a picture whose compositional balance seems in keeping with the style of its subject:

Then we have Normanton Church 4 by uplandswolf. The church as a focus of interest in its eerie landscape is emphasised by the people outside it:

You may not recognise this building from the unusual perspective, unless you are a cathedral roofs specialist. This is Norwich Cathedral: the Crossing by White Stilton - a striking and evocative image:

An urban perspective on historic buildings was provided by Mark Kirby5 in his photograph of St Vedast in the City of London. The judges admired the strong verticals in this picture:

That meant that our first winner was this unusual juxtaposition, in a photo of St Clement's Church, West Thurrock, by Whipper_snapper. Congratulations to Whipper_snapper, our first winner, and to our runners up.

You can see from the photos posted here what a difficult choice we had. Please do have a look at all the photos in the BHO group, and even add some more if you wish.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Image Copyright: An Introduction (1)

Our Permissions Controller for the digitisation of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England, Rachael Lazenby, has written an introductory guide to copyright for images, drawing on her experience on this project and on other work that she has done. This is part one of Rachael's guide; the second part will follow shortly.

Copyright and images - an introductory guide

Rachael Lazenby

I’ve recently been working on the project to digitise the inventory volumes of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England (RCHME). Some of the volumes are already live and can be accessed here.

My role has been to identify all images which were not provided by the Commission and seek permission to reuse them on British History Online. A full report on the methodology I devised for this work along with the results is freely available and is published here.

The work has touched upon many issues relating to copyright which are common when using images in research and so I thought it would be useful to explain some of the basics of copyright, how it affects images in particular, along with providing links to various resources available online.

Lammerside Castle, Wharton (1)

Definition of Copyright

Where better to start than with a definition of what copyright actually is:

the exclusive and assignable legal right, given to the originator for a fixed number of years, to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material (2)

A key feature of copyright is that it arises in a work the moment it is created by the originator. It does not have to be registered in the way that a patent might be for a process or a product. It is also important to note that ideas are not subject to copyright - it is the expression of ideas that is subject to copyright. This expression might be a photograph, a piece of text, a musical score or a painting. Copyright may be assigned by the originator to another party or waived by the copyright holder in certain circumstances.

Wherever an originator chooses to display or publish their work the copyright of the work remains with them unless they explicitly assign it to another party or until a fixed number of years have passed after their death. Copyright law varies country by country but in the UK a work remains in copyright until 70 years after the death of the creator at which point it passes into the public domain.

Misconceptions about the right to use images, especially those appearing online, abound.  One of the most common is that if an image does not appear with the copyright symbol and a named copyright holder it is not protected by copyright law. Although such copyright notices can help identify a copyright holder, images without this symbol are still protected by copyright law.  An image that is publicly accessible is still protected by copyright and an image being publicly accessible does not mean it is in the public domain. Copyright protects a work from any unauthorised use. Even if the reproduction of an image is not commercial, for example if it appears in a blog post, it is not legal without the permission of the originator.

Reproducing art and photographs

Cases involving paintings and drawings which are owned by museums can be complex. For example, should you wish to reproduce a photo of a painting by a living artist, you will have to gain permission from the artist, in addition to the permission of the organisation who owns the photo. It is frequently the case that photography is not permitted in museums and galleries, but if you have taken the photo yourself, and the composition is artistic and takes in more than just the painting itself, it may not be necessary to obtain permission. If an artist is deceased you may have to approach their estate for permission to reproduce an image if they have died within the last 70 years.

There are some organisations which specialise in sourcing paintings and drawings and for a fee will make available a high resolution scan of the work as well as arranging permission for an image to be used. Some UK based examples include the Mary Evans Picture Library specialising in historical images, and the Bridgeman Art Library.(3) Many national and university libraries also have extensive image collections which they are making available to students, researchers and commercial parties (although there are often charges for the service).

A great source of historical images with no known copyright restrictions can be found on the Flickr website: Their Creative Commons area is a project making freely available content from museums and galleries across the world. They also encourage tagging of the 
images to increase information available about the content.

The Ley, Woebley (4)

For images which have previously appeared in print or online, it is usually the publisher who can advise on who the copyright holder is, and how permission to reproduce an image can be obtained. The originator of an image might have transferred copyright to a publisher permanently, usually termed ‘assigning copyright’, or they might have granted permission for it to be used only in a specific publication in which case it is referred to as granting a licence.

Licences to use images in publications including online projects will state where and how images can be used. So for example to illustrate this article I can use an image which is now owned by English Heritage, as they have given us permission to use images to promote the digitisation of the RCHME volumes. I could also use any images which are now out of copyright. I cannot use images in this post which have been cleared for use in the volumes by outside parties as permission does not extend to any other use of the image.


1. Lammerside Castle, Wharton. Royal Commission on Historic Monuments of England, Westmorland (1936) plate 80 retrieved 23/2/2013
2. retrieved 7/12/12
4. The Ley, Woebley. Royal Commissions on the Historical Monuments of England, Herefordshire: Volume 3 North West (1934) plate 176 retrieved 23/2/2013
5. Plan of Ramsey Abbey. Royal Commissions on the Historical Monuments of England, Huntingdonshire (1926) p. 208 retrieved 23/2/2013