For those who find tourists roaming around museums with their cameras obnoxious, complaints about restrictive museum photo policies by bloggers and open source freaks may not illicit much sympathy. Even I get annoyed by the constant accidental flashes and elbowing in the name of average photographs, and
That said, I still have little patience for museums and galleries who don't allow photography. Generally the press is excluded from this policy, but since you basically need to be wearing a hat with a flashing red light reading blogger to keep the guards from harassing you, it seems to me much easier to just let people take pictures as they please. The concerns of the museums are much more complicated than this however, and while I tend not to have too much sympathy for museum stores worried about the loss of postcard sales when they are charging Louis Vuitton rent, the issues they raise need to be discussed. A recent conversation on the icommons list serve did just this so I'm reposting some of the thought expressed in that thread for consideration.
After having many conversations with people working at museums who are concerned about photography, the really clear point is that they don’t care about copyright or respecting patrons so much as preserving the income of their gift shops. A museum that prohibits the public from taking home a snapshot of a work they love is also a museum that can charge 1.99 Euro for a postcard of that work, regardless of whether or not it is in the public domain or whether or not they’re trying to assert copyright over it. Museum gift shops are incredibly lucrative and are viable business models that non-profits can depend on, so when something comes along that might appear to threaten their primary source of income, they get defensive. This probably explains why there is such confusion over the rights of museum patrons — some, not all, museums will use any excuse possible to prevent patrons from reproducing the work on their walls.
So museums have the right to grant you access to their (presumably) private property so they can tell you what you can and can’t do on their property. There are exceptions to this (e.g., white folks use this bathroom, etc.) but it doesn’t look like anyone is fighting for the digital-photographer’s bill of rights in the same way other public rights have been established in private spaces.
This is a fascinating point. If correct, then museums really should have “photographer times”, perhaps charging an extra fee. If the idea is that the main income they get is from the on-premise gift shop, this changes my thinking a lot.
I tend to think of museums as wanting to control digital reproductions as an effort to prevent competition from online poster shops, bookstores, etc., i.e. they want royalties from bogusly copyrighted quality reproductions. But if that is not the main point, if the main point of photography restrictions is to get money out of the customers on the premises of the museum (an understandable objective) and also concern about flashes and bothering other people…
An official photography time with an extra fee for a permit would mean a controlled setting, i.e. when you pay your extra $25 to be allowed to take pictures, maybe you have to put down a $75 deposit and if you use a flash (which arguably could damage the works, though I think that’s a pretty dodgy idea) you lose your deposit. [Editors note: I think that fee is WAY TOO HIGH for practical purposes, but the idea is a good one.]
This could actually be a money maker for the museum if they get a professional photographer to teach a class to people wanting to do this. And it would not interfere with gift shop revenues for the bulk of customers who would not be allowed to photograph. And the resulting works would, quite properly, be freely distributable by the photographers if they wanted to do that.
My understanding is that flashes do about 10x damage to a work as a flash of sunlight and that this is a very real concern for many works. Even contemporary photography can be degraded with constant exposure to harsh light like a strobe flash.
But the idea of granting a priori access to photographers seems like a great compromise. Along with ‘photo times’ people could also purchase photo passes. Hopefully determining the price point won’t be too difficult, though $25 per museum might get pretty steep for some.
I think this will work the best with museums that have purely public domain works, because works that are protected by copyright would obviously present serious issues.
On the other hand, photography may be seen as a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy and some museum curators won’t want to formally instantiate any kind of program promoting the photography of their carefully preserved acquisitions, even if it helps with a bottom line. I think that as long as we can make the argument that museums are created and maintained for the public good (there are plenty of exceptions to this, I know) we should be able to find some who are relatively open to this idea.
The Louvre might be a good place to start.