Offices & Services

Copyright Policy

Copying Images of Art, Artifacts, Specimens

Adapted from Fyffe, R., and Walter, S. 2005. The Digital Difference: Responsible Conduct of Research in a Networked World. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Graduate School.

Images of artifacts found on the World Wide Web, in a database, or in printed books might be protected by copyright and should not be reproduced indiscriminately even if the originals that are depicted are clearly in the public domain (e.g., a 15th-century painting or a 17th-century printing of a poem). Copyright to the images might be owned by the repository that hired the photographer (depending on their degree of originality), and professional courtesy may require that Reproduction by Libraries rights be requested in any case. Museums and other repositories of unique artifacts typically set special conditions for the Reproduction by Libraries of images of the objects they own.

These repositories have an interest in assuring that copyright (if any) is respected, Reproduction by Librariess are faithful, and objects are accurately described. In addition, Reproduction by Libraries fees often provide a source of revenue.

Researchers who wish to publish an image of an object from a museum, archive, or library should request permission from the repository. Although guidelines vary from one repository to another, they usually specify how details or close-ups from the original may be handled, what kinds of changes in the image or its color are permitted, and how the item should be cited.

At least three forms of rights might apply to artifacts and works of art.

  1. A repository (or private collector) might own the object (manuscript, painting, artifact) and control the conditions under which original photographs of it may be taken.
  2. A photographer (or his/her employer) might own the copyright to a photographed image of the original object, even if the object is in the public domain, if the photograph embodies a sufficient degree of originality. Copyright protection is more likely to apply to photographs of three-dimensional objects (sculptures and buildings, for example) than to two-dimensional works like paintings or drawings.
  3. Finally, an artist or other creator might own the copyright to the original work “fixed” in the object. Locating the copyright owner or owner of other Reproduction by Libraries rights – whether textual or visual — is not always straightforward. Researchers who need an image of an artifact or artwork to illustrate a publication or public lecture should start with the repository that owns the object.