University Requires Students To Pay $180 For 'Art History' Text That Has No Photos Due To Copyright Problems

from the total-failure dept

Brent Ashley shares the absolutely crazy story of how his daughter, a student at OCAD University in Canada, is taking a class on “Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800” which has a textbook that is required for all students… which costs $180. Now, we all know that textbook prices are absolutely insane these days, but here’s where it gets crazier. The text — and, remember, this is an art textbook has no images because they couldn’t clear the copyrights:

This year, however, the textbook for Global VISUAL and Material Culture has no pictures. Students have been told that the publisher couldn’t get the copyright permissions settled in time for the print run, so students will have to read the book, and see the pictures online by following along on their computer.

There is no discount on the $180 price for an ART textbook that has NO PICTURES. Devoid of pictures. Bereft of art. If I am going to have to pay $180 for an art history book that is of no resale value to next year’s students, it had damn well better be an excellent visual reference with hard cover and full colour plates, to keep around for years, festooning my coffee table and that of my heirs.

Students in the class have put up a petition to protest what they quite correctly call a “sham.” It’s even more bizarre given that recent court rulings in Canada would suggest that the images in question would be given pretty broad “fair dealing” protections for the purpose of education. But, just the threat of copyright claims, apparently, are creating an absolutely ridiculous situation.

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Comments on “University Requires Students To Pay $180 For 'Art History' Text That Has No Photos Due To Copyright Problems”

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Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

In case of tangible art (sculptures, architecture) photographs could indeed be copyrighted.

However, with texts and pictures, its impossible since reproductions of two-dimensional art are not copyrightable.

5. (1) Subject to this Act, copyright shall subsist in Canada, for the term hereinafter mentioned, in every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work if any one of the following conditions is met:

The key point being “original”, which a photographical reproduction clearly is not.

This not only applies to Canada, but to just about every country on the world.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Reproduction Photography and Immediate Obviousness (to Seegras, #56).

Art reproduction photography is a technological act. Even if the art in question, not being a flat surface, cannot be reproduced precisely, the goal is still to reproduce the distinctive aspects of the art, those which differentiate it from other art. For this reason, I would like to import, from patent law, the notion of immediate obviousness. Most of the time, it was obvious how to photograph a given artifact. When in difficulties, the photographer did not start making aesthetic choices, but took additional photographs to record things which could not be gotten into a single photograph.

Let us consider a pot, that is, a cup, bowl, plate, vase, chalice, pitcher, etc., designed for holding and/or serving a liquid. For a variety of reasons, pots tend to survive well in the archaeological record, and they are therefore important out of all proportion to the common-ness of their use. Now, there are certain engineering constraints on the design of a pot. It has to have handles, and possibly a spout, so that people can carry it around, lift in, and drink from it or pour from it, without dropping or spilling. There are perhaps ten or twenty conventional arrangements, which have proven so successful in actual service that they are rarely deviated from, and these have been in common use for the last five thousand years. Now, when one comes to decorate a pot, one is left with the engineer’s leavings, so to speak. There are conventional large open spaces to paint on, where the engineer did not need to put anything, and which are visible when the pot is in use. So those are where the painter paints. This means that there are more or less conventional angles for photographing a given type of pot. If the photographer is a perfectionist, he might take six or eight pictures from different angles, but his decisions were made for him by the engineer and the painter, thousands of years ago, given his determination to document the pot with photographs which are the next best thing to going and seeing it in a museum. If you look through a book which systematically collects pictures of large numbers of pots, such as Spyridon Marinatos’s _Crete and Mycenae_ (1960), you will find that the photographic “set-ups” are immensely conventional. Different pots of the same physical type from different times and places are photographed the same way.

The same applies to a wide range of other decorated useful objects.

Now, moving on to comparatively pure works of three-dimensional art– statues– it is often more or less obvious which angles the statue was designed to be seen from. The statue has an architectural context. One can generally be sure that the statue was not meant to be seen from above, the date of production being well before the invention of flying machines. One takes account of walls and trees blocking off views, and of pools of water which might have prevented the observer from getting very close. Now, of course, this kind of analysis might not serve very well for some kinds of modern art, but fortunately our concerns are limited, for the time being to pre-1923 works. In any case, starting with the advent of the camera in the 1840’s, we begin to get large numbers of photographs contemporaneous with the construction of the buildings or statues they depict, and equally likely to be out-of-copyright. In many cases, the building has long since been destroyed, but the photograph survives, because copies were made and distributed.

mkk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

because to have access to ‘myartslab’ (the book’s text and images online), you have to first purchase the book. With it comes a code in an envelope that you feed into the myartslab website and are then able to create an account online. It’s so dumb :/ why we couln’t just pay a normal price to have an account online is beyond me.

RonKaminsky says:


Unfortunately, the choice of composition, angle, and lightning of the photograph is considered to be worthy of protection under copyright, even if the subject matter of the photograph does not itself qualify. The only exception is if the photograph is designed to be a “faithful copy” of the subject, which has to be a 2-dimensional work of art like another photograph, a drawing, or a painting.

You still see, however, the ubiquitous “Copyright 20XX” notice on postcards in museum giftshops, even for photographs which obviously don’t qualify for protection. That always make me hopping mad.

kyle clements (profile) says:

Re: Re:

OCAD also has a laptop program, where students are forced to purchase one of very limited selection of laptops for their coursework.

So they are forced to buy textbooks AND laptops.

I graduated from this school in ’06.

By 3rd year I had stopped buying any of the text books for a number of reasons:
1. free copies are available in the library.
2. I can pay attention in class and still pull off high 70’s.
3. Marks are irrelevant, it’s the $20,000 piece of paper at the end that matters, not your report card.
4. You are buying your way into a social network, not actually learning anything, so who cares about textbooks?
5. It’s cheaper to not buy stuff.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Preserve Copyright, take the pictures again

The publisher probably retakes any pictures that are nearing their copyright limits, just so they can copyright them again. I would imagine that this is done by in-house photographers who are performing a work for hire, just so they cannot make a copyright claim themselves.


Maybe we could get the museums or collectors stop them from doing this. Oh wait! The museums want the income too, so they probably charge the publishers for the opportunity to take the pictures.

What a mess!

Brent Ashley (profile) says:

Response from the school

The school has responded to concerns with a letter from the Dean. The relevant section is below.

I’m told that the course instructor was not in attendance at the first class and the resource materials requirements were distributed by a teaching assistant who didn’t have a complete understanding of the issues.

There is an open meeting between the students and the Dean on Thursday to correct any misinformation.


Global Visual & Material Culture: Beginnings to 1800 is a custom textbook that basically combines three
textbooks into one:

1. Art History, 4th ed. by Stokstad and Cothren ? excerpts from the full 1150-page text.
Volume One would retail for $144.

2. Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide, 2nd ed. by Drucker/McVarish ? excerpts.
This volume would retail for $92.

3. A custom reader with all the additional material we have added (which includes printed images)and would cost approximately $65 ? $75 (see page iii of text for list of items).

You have also been given access to electronic versions of the full Stokstad/Cothren and Drucker/McVarish texts with all the images.

The book is complete as printed and is not missing pictures because we didn?t get copyright clearance in time. If we had opted for print clearance of all the Stokstad and Drucker images, the text would have
cost over $800.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Response from the school

The book is complete as printed and is not missing pictures because we didn?t get copyright clearance in time. If we had opted for print clearance of all the Stokstad and Drucker images, the text would have
cost over $800.

So… the original story is still basically true. They didn’t print the photos because of copyright issues, but instead told people to go online — but they’re still required to pay $180 for the book. Right? Or am I missing something?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Response from the school

actually you are missing the fact that this book only covers the FIRST semester of classes.

There’s ANOTHER book they must buy for the SECOND SEMESTER and that one also comes without pictures!

total = 180 x 2 = 360 USD for two books

“The art-history class is new this year to OCAD, and is mandatory for all first-year students. The second half of the course, covering art after 1800, will start next term. Ms. Shailer said the second-half course will have its own text, which will also be priced at $180 and will be compiled from portions of other published works.
/quote (i added just the bold tag for highlighting).


Jason says:

Re: Response from the school

Wait, so lemme get this straight:

In order to save $20-30 on the total textbook costs for AN ART CLASS, the school or the teacher, whichever, opted for a super special “custom textbook” option that has no pictures for the ART CLASS.

THEN, they looked into getting the pictures included–you know, since it is an ART CLASS–but it was going to cost another $800 due to all the copyright concerns, so that was obviously terribler idea.

FINALLY, in the end, they chose the more copyright protectful option of simply giving a WHOLE BUNCH OF COLLEGE STUDENTS access to high quality digital versions of the extremely valuable copyrighted images that must not be copied willy nilly.

Am I now fully clear on this?

JoeCool (profile) says:

Response from the school

The book is complete as printed and is not missing pictures because we didn?t get copyright clearance in time. If we had opted for print clearance of all the Stokstad and Drucker images, the text would have cost over $800.

So it wasn’t that they couldn’t GET copyright clearance, it was that they couldn’t AFFORD copyright clearance. I don’t see how that makes a difference to the students; they still have an expensive book with no pictures. Being able to look at a low-res scan online is no substitute!

Kevin H (profile) says:

Teacher: Open the book to page 192, and read the description for _________’s piece of art named _________.
Student: Hey I paid 180 for this book and it doesn’t show the painting?
Teacher: Don’t worry about it. We can use the power of I M A G I N A T I O N, to get us the rest of the way. I have seen it myself in our old text book, and I will try and describe the brushstrokes significance. I also have this wonderful color wheel which I will use to try and show you how the artisit combined different shades to create a wonderful effect.
Student: Fuck that! I’ll just google it.

DH's Love Child (profile) says:


“Yeah, pretty crazy considering nothing made before 1800 would still be under copyright. There is no way that would be possible. Even a VERY generous life +70 would put the artists dead by 1900 and the copyright expired by 1970.”

Actually it wouldn’t have even lasted that long. If we’re talking about art up to the year 1800, that means the last of that group (late 18th century) would have lived into maybe 1850. But that’s only the LAST part of that group, the 20,000 or so years of art prior to that would all be in the public domain.

And as pretty much all printed material published prior to 1923 is in the public domain, even after all of the wacky extensions, all of that artwork should be in the public domain. This is insane!

kyle clements (profile) says:

Re: Look on the bright side...

“Hopefully, these students will find this experience an education in the realities of today’s copyright, as these art schools otherwise leave them woefully ignorant, and will carry this realization into their professional lives.”

Not just ignorant, but horribly misinformed.

Several years ago, I was at the OCAD grad show, and a spectacularly gifted student was showing. I asked if he had a website where I could see more.
“NO! Absolutely not! If I put pictures online everyone will just steal them”
“So…how are people supposed to find you, to get to know you? to become familiar with your work?”
He walked away, angry.

This wasn’t an isolated incident, as many other students has the same attitude. Someone is telling these kids that copyright is like gold and must be protected at all costs.

The best revenge, however, is success, and I was picked up by a gallery by them googling “cool effing art +toronto” and I came up in the results.

I haven’t seen anything from these students in years, it’s like they disappeared off the face of the earth, and without a website, that’s exactly what’s happened.

Helen Scheir says:

Fair dealing claims not true

Good morning,

I believe your comment about fair dealing is incorrect. The fair dealing test previously set out by the Supreme Court has *not* been modified by the recent case law. One of the criteria for meeting the fair dealing test is that a small portion of the work is being reproduced. One painting = one work, therefore it is not likely fair dealing would be met. The standard for the test is not lowered because it is in the educational context.

Anonymous Coward says:

I know this might not be the optimal solution, but I would hit the college where it hurts: Cancel class. If all the students boycott the course and make the college suffer where they will notice, they’ll be quick to change the way they conduct business.

When I went to college a few years back I was fortunate to have some great professors who allowed us to buy older editions and worked with us if we couldn’t afford the texts. I can’t remember a professor who forced us to spend money we didn’t have to.

kyle clements (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If OCAD is still run the way it was while I was a student, I’m afraid this isn’t really an option, since the art history courses are compulsory.

What sets OCAD apart from other schools, and what motivated me to go there back in ’02 over anywhere else was the strong emphasis on studio work over academic work. I have this crazy idea that if I want to get good at doing stuff, then doing stuff is more effective than writing about doing stuff. And OCAD got that, they understood that. So there was only one Academic course per year (2 if you were enrolled in the degree program) and it was mandatory. everyone had to take it, and everyone had to pass to move on to the next year.

Money Talks says:

Re: Why in the world is someone wasting money taking an art history course period

This IS an art school.

OCAD = Ontario College of ART and DESIGN.

The course is REQUIRED for all students.

…”All incoming first-year students are required to complete LBST 1B04 Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800 and LBST 1B05 Global Visual and Material Culture: 1800 to the Present…”

Jessica says:

Wait a minute...

Art History is one of those topics that has a plethora of textbooks within grasp. My only concern is WHY CHOOSE THIS SPECIFIC TEXT when you are dealing with a topic such as this? Professors are able to choose the text that goes along with their curriculum. So, why would he/she choose a text, for Art History, that has no pictures in it…

Courtney says:


The textbook costs $180+ tax?
Last years textbook was WITH pictures & only $70, same content.

but “apparently” ocad wanted to be unique and add more CRAP to it & the solution they came up with was to make their own shitty textbook… well GOODJOB ocad. You finally managed to steal enough money from your students and have it go on the NEWSPAPER. How do you think that makes the school and the students look?

IF it costed $800 to sell it with the copy right, then why do it?!
Nobody had a problem with last years textbook. You could’ve avoided this problem by MAYBE having a booklet on the side?

There’s no reason why you should torture your students with some USELESS textbook. Not everyone lives around the school, we commute and in order for us to STUDY WE NEED INTERNET ACCESS AND A LAPTOP.

we are art students & I can speak for a lot of students right now and say that we don’t do well with a lot of text. WE’RE ART STUDENTS, again, we like having colors & PICTURES with things that we deal with & for you to take the pictures for the ART HISTORY textbook away do you know how much harder it’ll be to study? How much harder it’ll be to memorize them?

But I’m not surprised, being an ocadu student for 3 years you’ll eventually realize that they love to strip you from every penny you got.

Ocad you need to get your head out of your ass and admit that you did a really bad job of making this useless textbook.

There was a meeting for the textbook yesterday and she told us that they received the textbooks on aug 15th and by that time it was too late for them to make any changes. AHA! You clearly aren’t ready to teach this course yet. Stop this and make YOUR STUDENTS HAPPY!
Art school is very expensive and not all students have osap or their parents to help them out! Please stop being jerks and help your students!

it’s mandatory for all students to buy it because of the online code inside… -__________-

mkk (profile) says:

I finally bought this book because i didn’t want to fall behind in the course. In the image box, the text refers us to the ‘etext’ aka artslab to view images online. When i did that, i came across images that are still blank boxes (online) so they are not even available online.WTH?!!! There’s an example of that in the very first chapter -.-

guest says:

The students should arrange a protest of some sort.

Perhaps they could all refuse to buy the book. Or they could all chip in a percentage and collectively buy a single book, and make a big stink – every single class period – about how inconvenient it is to share a book, but GOOD THING WE ALL HAVE TO GO FIND THE PICTURES ON OUR OWN ANYWAY!

Or they could take their collectively-owned single copy, break it apart, and photocopy the pages for distribution, daring the college/publisher to take them to court (where they will have their say).

Or they could all buy t-shirts with “[PROFESSORNAME] made us buy $180 textbooks minus the part we’re supposed to be studying – the “content included” version was too expensive!” or something

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