Ok, everyone — we’ve all been there. We write articles and books, choosing the best images for our arguments, edit, revise, maybe get some feedback from a friend, make it through the agonies and ecstasies of peer review, and land a publication contract that specifies that “the author is solely responsible for obtaining permissions for the reproduction of all figures.” Sigh.
We return to our ideally constructed List of Figures, figure out who theoretically owns what, write to them, and wait to see just how very much money we’ll owe. Some places charge extortionary fees ($500 for the use of a single image is the worst I’ve seen), some have reasonable fees ($10? Ok, sure). Some have fees listed but then offer a discount for academic work, or even waive the fees entirely. Some institutions simply never, ever write back.
But the most helpful, most forward-looking institutions offer their work under Creative Commons other forms of Fair Use licensing, which generally means that they ask that credit be given, but authors need not ask for the permission to use the images, and no fees are charged. [It needs repeating that US and UK copyright laws are clear that the majority of the images of medieval works of art cannot be copyrighted, and that the fees we pay are some sort of courtesy to the institutions, and are not legally mandated. See here and here and here for more.]
The Material Collective supports, endorses, hell, loves Creative Commons licensing. It is supportive, collaborative, democratic, and free. We believe that Creative Commons is not only a way to save a bit (or a lot of ca$h), but also a public good. We therefore want to use as many CC images and collections as we can, and as few non-CC images and collections as we can manage. If we all do — this only works as collective action! — this will mean CC collections get more and more attention, and non-CCs get less and less. This is a subtle form of pressure, but combined with the loss of meaningful revenues from permissions, perhaps it will encourage recalcitrant organizations to join the Creative Commons.
But how, you might ask, can we know which collections are which? There are so very many, and they seem to change statuses all the time. Correct! We are therefore making a call to crowdsource the hell out of this. We have made a single, simple place where anyone can list CC collections as they find them. Now, it is up to YOU to populate this list! Let’s make this happen, friends! There are some other such lists out there (this is a good one), but we can do better. If there is a municipal library in the South of France with one Carolingian manuscript up online, free of use fees, let’s get the word out!
The Material Collective’s Freedom from Reproduction Expenditures and Expenses for Images and Materials, and from Annoying Games, Extorted from Scholars, or the MC’s FREEIMAGES.
We’ve put a couple of collections in the list to start the ball rolling. Now, it’s YOUR turn!