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. googleartproject.com, art.sy, 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.
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.
And who are the good guys again? Oh right, the Department of Homeland Security. Or perhaps the fine folks at RIAA and MPAA will be bestowed emergency powers themselves when the threat level reaches vermilion due to the rising tide of copyrighterrism.
It's natural selection; leave them to them kill themselves if that's what they want to do. The sooner the better.
I just put an antenna on my roof that gets over 20 HD channels, installed MythBuntu on an old PC, and dropped my cable tv completely. By scheduling recordings from the air, I'll have more than enough to watch whenever I want without paying any of them any money and they'll have to live off their advertising like in the bad old days. Oh yeah, and I can skip commercials.
Luckily for now what I'm doing is not only perfectly legal but they are mandated to provide it. Keep your eyes on the small print in those obscure bills from the back benches - we're sure to see some concerted effort to kill free-to-air broadcast.
Au contraire, I think it's fitting that if Sony doesn't want to pay up, they should have to go through each frame and replace all incidental art with something generic, just like WKRP did for syndication. They can't have it both ways.
The "blue sky essay" part of my post was preceded by the following line which Mike didn't include in his quote.
"This is what it’s all about, from a pure philosophical perspective:"
Perhaps even without this preface, you feel that an attempt to express something with philosophical purity equates to wild-eyed optimism.
My goal was not to dismiss the entire real world of pragmatism but to provide a distilled definition of the problem domain and then begin a discussion, which I'm happy to see it has.
Apparently my choice of the qualifier "not too much different from" was not enough to deflect analogy-pedantry. I grant that the problem has little to do with forest-clearing machinery and Brazilian mob rule. Touché.