The UK was once described as an island of coal surrounded by fish – the exploitation of its natural resources was the key to its economic success. Today, inventiveness is the new black gold with the creative industries worth over £84 billion a year to the UK economy. The growth rate in creative industries is twice that of the rest of the economy. Culture is valuable for both its own sake and that of the economy. Our museums and libraries are creativity mines exploring rich seams.
The National Portrait Gallery houses the most extensive Collection of portraits in the world. It opened its doors in 1856 at a time when the far-sighted innovators of steam-driven Britain realised that dissemination of information, the broadcasting of wonder and the celebration of achievement were just as important as railway networks and functional sewage systems. Today, the Gallery houses 330,000 paintings, photographs and other portraits. Its role is:
To promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media.
The Collection is a priceless record of achievement. In 2012 the number of visitors to the museum (just around the corner from Nelson’s Column) exceeded 2 million for the first time. Public fascination with the individuals who made history, and the artists who captured them, continues to grow.
‘The good the bad and the ugly’
According to the gallery’s most recent statistics – the top five individual portraits licensed from its website are, in descending order: William Shakespeare, Richard III, Queen Elizabeth 1, King John and King Henry V.
The top two, Shakespeare and the villainous (unless you are a Leicester City fan) Richard III, scored more hits than the rest.
Image licensing, marketing and public access
Online availability and easy access to images and other data are crucial aspects of modern museum and library curation. Huge databases of valuable information are available. Users need to know where to find these resources and how to use them without infringing copyright. Museums and libraries are developing strategies to improve access for researchers, to give access to businesses users who want to develop their own intellectual property (IP) by using cultural resources and develop their own brands and merchandising.
Mathew Bailey, Rights and Images Manager at the National Portrait Gallery, balances the high wire between providing public access to our shared national assets and the need to encourage, develop and supply the creative economy with legally certain, quantifiable, marketable IP. The commodity he deals in – our heroes – couldn’t be more volatile.
To balance the needs of educational establishments and researchers with our need to fund and develop our Collection we’re developing a number of strategies. In July 2012 we were the first UK museum to put in place an automated, online digital image database which combined Academic and Creative Commons licences. Through the use of the CC licence we’re able to offer free low resolution images and enable users of those images to attribute IP rights, which saves time down the line. Our system gives users instant access to 98,000 images under the creative commons and 110,000 high resolution images under free academic license. For commercial users we offer high resolution images and we charge users for licences to use these rights.
We don’t work alone. Through the Association of Cultural Enterprises we share ideas and best practice with other museums. In order to provide our users with appropriate, reliable and attributable IP licenses, and develop our own revenue streams so that we can continue to operate, we’re always fine-tuning our offering.
This image of Alan Turing is the most licensed photograph the Gallery’s Collection of 220,000 photographs. Decoding the reasons why some portraits are more popular than others gives an insight into the value of IP.
All the world’s a stage
It’s no accident the names of the artists who painted the UK’s top five portraits are uncertain - King John looks like he’s just sat on a thistle, whereas Richard III only half fills his canvas. The lives of Richard III, King John and Henry V were all dramatised by Shakespeare during the reign of Elizabeth I. She was an image conscious monarch in the first age of mass communication and Shakespeare was her blockbuster dramatist. Shakespeare’s narratives add value and are the real reason why he, Richard, Elizabeth, John and Henry are still top of the portrait pops.
- The above blog post was written by a third party, and the views expressed therein are not necessarily the views of the Intellectual Property Office.
- The copyright in images created from of out of copyright works is a matter of debate. The IPO publishes a guide to digital images, which contains further information: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/copyright-notice-digital-images-photographs-and-the-internet
- Calculating the term of copyright protection for unpublished works is complex. Occasionally, even very old unpublished artistic works for which the author is anonymous or pseudonymous, may still be in copyright.