Canadian University, Publisher Promise To Fix Problems With Art History Book That Has No Photos

from the a-bit-late,-but... dept

You may recall the story we had earlier this week about Canadian University OCAD requiring students in an art history class to buy a $180 book that didn’t even have any images, because they couldn’t properly license them. Instead, it had big white boxes and students were expected to go online to see the right images. Beyond the ridiculousness of the situation itself, it was clear that there would be no resale value at all for the book.

OCAD got in touch to let us know that they’ve now put out a statement on the situation (pdf) in which they admit that the situation was far from ideal, and they’re taking steps to deal with it. The dean claims to have met with the publisher, Pearson, who “was highly responsive.” That’s not too surprising, given just how much attention that original story got. They must have sensed that being on the wrong side of this one would not end well. The plan now:

  • Guaranteed end-of-term buy-back of the custom text (dollar amount to be announced next week); they want to take it out of circulation.
  • Provision (free) of print copies of the Stokstad text (which contains the vast majority of missing images) to all students who have purchased the reader, to use as a print-based cross-reference; these would be the relevant volumes of the portable version of Stokstad (much easier to carry) – details on how this will roll out next week.

The pricing on the buyback may still be a concern, but clearly the loud outcry and vast internet interest in the situation resulted in the university and the publisher deciding that this whole thing was a mistake. They probably should have realized that before pushing an art history book that had no images, but at least they’re trying to make it right.

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Companies: pearson canada

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Comments on “Canadian University, Publisher Promise To Fix Problems With Art History Book That Has No Photos”

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Beech says:

No resale?

No resale value? I figured buyers would be lined up around the corner to get their hands on a genuine piece of actual factual copyright stupidity made into a physical form!

Heck, I would spend some sweet cash on that to show to my kids/grandkids. Either after the revolution to show “how dumb copyright got” or in corporate slavery to show “this was how it all began…you know, however it turns out.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: No resale?

I agree.

I would certainly pay some money to have this particular art history book on my coffee table.

Of course, I am assuming that this is the only published art history book that does not have pictures. Considering the lunacy of copyright laws, this could have already happened hundreds of times and we just haven’t heard about it.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

better than nothing...

the thing is, it is difficult enough for most stories of people being screwed over a million different ways to get through the korporate-media filter/gatekeeper function…

*however*, due to both the power of the inertnet, *and* the collective response of people, *sometimes* even small injustices, and other incidents of unfair korporate behavior come to light, and *sometimes* The They ™ blink…

*that* is why The They ™ want to lock down the inertnet, and all communications; that is why The People must be stopped, it smacks of… of… of freedom ! ! !

it doesn’t matter if 99% of us want a change, WE are NOT ‘in charge’… the dem’rats and rethugs kabuki theater is what we are allowed to watch; that is inconsequential…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Brent Ashley (profile) says:


I am very pleased that OCAD has responded with real proposed solutions to the problem. They have also called for another open discussion next week.

As much as I’m often cynical, in my telephone call with the Dean I did not detect any spin or disingenuous tone.

Out of this issue, we have proposed short term solutions and open discussion about educational resources and their costs.

Let’s celebrate the progress we’ve made and engage to keep it going so longer term solutions can be found.

Brent Ashley (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Momentum

It turns out it’s not as simple as it seems at first. For the benefit of all, here are some things that have become clear to me this week.

Copyright isn’t where the expense lies, it’s Licensing.

If you want photos of public domain art works that are of high enough quality for print publication, you have a few choices.

1) You can send a photographer out to take photos of each work. Many will be in museums and will require negotiating a photography session with the museum. One reason is that the light used in high power flashes for this quality of photo has a high UV content and over time will contribute to deterioration of the work, so they limit access.

This is very expensive and time-consuming, but you will get high quality photos.

2) You can find a photographer or organization who has done #1 themselves or has bought the rights to license images from other photographers.

This will get you the quality photos, and save you some money.

3) You can try to source photos that have open and free licenses. While there are some organizations who are collecting such images (e.g.,, and others), there is not a deep well of these resources, so your experience will result in a lot of searching and varied quality.

As you can see, #2 is optimal among these (possibly not exhaustive) choices.

When you want to get photos for your book, you pay a license fee to the person who can provide you with the high-quality source material. They calculate it based on a number of factors, one of which is the quality of the final images – i.e. it’s cheaper to license a bunch of images to be presented in thumbnail or screen form than in full resolution.

If you print and sell 10,000 copies of your book, the cost component of the licensing is distributed much more thinly than if you have a limited run of 500 books. You have a choice of whether to present pictures in full, thumbnail, or online, or a combination. The choices made in this case resulted in a product that did not meet the needs of the audience (understated, I know, but that’s the bottom line).

What this all comes down to is that once the logistics of producing a book are considered, it’s apparent that there is no one entity in the chain demanding excessive profits. It’s just the economics of a high quality small print run in play here, and then the design decisions that came out of that.

So far the response of the school and the publisher has been very positive and I’m optimistic that a much better solution will come out of this episode. Open dialogue has been spawned and the wider issues of copyright, licensing and the spiralling cost of a university education have been subjected to very public review and criticism.

Thanks to the students who started the petition, and TechDirt who provided a platform for wide recognition, this story promises to have as happy an ending as one could hope for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Momentum

“You have a choice of whether to present pictures in full, thumbnail, or online, or a combination. The choices made in this case resulted in a product that did not meet the needs of the audience”

So they went entirely with the Go Look It Up Online option and this is why the book with no pictures cost $180 ????
Let me guess, one needs to setup an account to view the pix which is only possible via purchase of the book – and all previously available material was removed from the library. This is a publishers wet dream.

….. it’s apparent that there is no one entity in the chain demanding excessive profits. It’s just the economics of a high quality small print run in play here, and then the design decisions that came out of that.”

I find this excuse to be somewhat lacking. Clearly there is a get rich quick scam in play and the attempt to rationalize makes it even worse. I doubt this scenario is isolated to Art History books at one particular university, rather it is a trend which will be seen across all areas of study and not just at places of higher learning.

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Licenses

I’d like to recap this from a slightly different perspective:

This isn’t “Licensing” at all, because the subject lacks a property — being subject to copyright — to make “licensing” even an option.

We’re talking about

a) Service. Somebody makes quality photographs of public domain 2D-Art for you.

b) A private contract, in which you agree to give certain compensation (and maybe agree to not use your rights pertaining said material) in exchange to these services.

Evidently, this does not infringe on YOUR rights granted by copyright. You upload the photographs to wikimedia commons, as “public domain” and from this point on everybody will have high quality pictures of that art. However, you might open yourself to a “breach of contract”-lawsuit. This will be entirely your problem. Wikimedia and the public still keep the images, because they did not have any contract…

Still, no matter what the contractor wishes it to be, he does NOT have any copyright on public domain two-dimensional art.

Which brings me to the second point: Of course everyone and their lawyers claim copyrights IN SPITE of not having them. I call this fraud.

And even worse: The publisher in the above case was so indoctrinated by this propaganda, he automatically tried to clear the rights, without realizing that there are no exclusive rights by anyone on copies of two-dimensional public domain art. Instead he could have just copied them out of Stokstad (if of sufficient quality).

Tammy says:


It is impossibly crazy to be an art student at OCADU. The fees keep on increasing and the value doesn’t really keep pace. A mandatory $180 book makes no sense at all. Somebody is making profit from these students. The white pages telephone book is printed for free. OCADU should have been representing the students, trying to get a good deal for them not having a hand in their pockets all the time trying to pry as much as they can from these poor kids’ pockets. Making the book mandatory shows that OCADU is really wanting some money here. It all stinks.

Anonymous Coward says:

“vast internet interest “

and I haven’t seen this mentioned at all from our corrupt, purely self interested, mainstream media. What a story and no mention. Amazing.

Abolish govt. established broadcasting and cableco monopolies. Abolish the FCC. Govt established broadcasting and cableco monopolies are in violation of the first amendment, they are a govt imposition that’s effectively being used to censor speech in the sole interests of corporate entities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“…how does one abolish a monopoly?”. Seriously, you have to ask?
“Nutter” is a term generally used by the British. You don’t hear very many Americans using it. Are you British? If so, note that a government agency which tells us that certain words or images cannot be broadcast runs contrary to the freedom of speech and press we are SUPPOSED to have over here.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“…how does one abolish a monopoly?”. Seriously, you have to ask?”

No, I didn’t have to ask – but it is a reasonable question.

Many monopolies exist, most of them are services subject to government regulation like power water and sewer. These monopolies exist in their present form for many reasons, some of which actually make sense. One does not simply “abolish” public utilities.

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