Tag Archives: copyright

Embracing the Inevitable

The approach taken by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam might very well be the approach some businesses should embrace with their content:

Many museums post their collections online, but the Rijksmuseum here has taken the unusual step of offering downloads of high-resolution images at no cost, encouraging the public to copy and transform its artworks into stationery, T-shirts, tattoos, plates or even toilet paper.

The museum, whose collection includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mondrian and van Gogh, has already made images of 125,000 of its works available throughRijksstudio, an interactive section of its Web site. The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available, said Taco Dibbits, the director of collections at the Rijksmuseum.

Pretty cool huh? If you think about it the museum is kind of doing what companies do with their customers and biggest fans: get them to promote their brand by plastering logoes and other corporate images all over shirts, cups, etc. What's obviously different is that the museum is having them slather their unique "products" on those various and sundry items and some artists or for-profit publishers might not like that. Also, as the museum's director points out, the museum is a different position than a for-profit entity:

“We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property,” Mr. Dibbits said in an interview.

But in the next breath he makes a very good argument for why companies might very well embrace the museum's approach even if they own the subject matter:

“‘With the Internet, it’s so difficult to control your copyright or use of images that we decided we’d rather people use a very good high-resolution image of the ‘Milkmaid’ from the Rijksmuseum rather than using a very bad reproduction,” he said, referring to that Vermeer painting from around 1660.

Of course this approach won't work for everyone, but the combination of free publicity and quality control make it a viable consideration for many content creators.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Tick Off the Artists

If you want to publish something online that generates a gazillion comments then I suggest the following:

  • Use, without permission, an original illustration.
  • When asked by the artist to remove the illustration, do so, apologize, say something like "it's kind of silly to put that image out there in the online wilds without any protection and get upset when someone uses it," and then explain to him how he shouldn't have made it so easy to use his image and point him to tools he could use to protect his image.
  • Sit back and wait for the illustrator community to beat a path to your comments.
  • Wonder how you never knew that artists could be so, so, so, virulent.
  • Write another post on another blog that's inspired by your first post, and in this new post detail how artists can protect themselves from people like yourself.
  • Sit back and gaze in wonder as the illustrator community finds your new blog post and goes even more batsh** crazy.
  • Defend your position and watch those flames get higher and higher.
  • Watch your boss take the illustrators' side in comment #147 and tell the world that you screwed up and apologize on the company's behalf.

BTW I've been reading Dana Blankenhorn, the author in question, for years and I definitely understand his point of view and I get what he's saying. I tend towards his view of online content (image or word) that in the long run you generally make more money by making it readily available online, but in this specific case I think the illustrator, Chris Buzelli, made some great points.  

Buzelli does work for hire and he feels like the value of his work is diminished if it appears in the wrong place, and he also worries that a work for hire might be used inappropriately without his permission.  For instance if a client gives him permission to use one of the pieces he did for them as a sample on his website and then that client sees the image used elsewhere, perhaps even on a competitor's website, Buzelli risks losing a client.  Another good point he made is that he doesn't want his work used to illustrate an article that he might find objectionable.

Just so we're clear I think that Blankenhorn made a mistake by not first getting permission to use the image and then did the right thing by taking down the image as soon as he heard from Buzelli.  I think he made another mistake by not simply apologizing and moving on, but I also think that because of this kerfluffle content creators now have an object lesson to reference. For his part I think Buzelli really did the right thing by not lawyering up and taking care of this directly himself.  Finally, I think the last group of people I want to tick off are artists.  They're scary when they get riled.