https://ipo.blog.gov.uk/2016/07/07/national-treasures/

National treasures

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.

Image of Lulu and Queens Elizabeth 1.
Curating IP at the National Portrait Gallery.

Victorian vision

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.

Image of William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare.
Richard III
Richard III.
Queen Elizabeth 1
Queen Elizabeth I.
King John.
King John.
King Henry V.
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.

Mathew says:

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.

He adds:

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.

Decoding IP

Image of Alan Turing.
This photograph of Alan Turing is one of the Gallery’s best sellers.

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.

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9 comments

  1. Stanley Obvious

    Aside from the use of public domain images in the article; please also note the footer of this website, which states:

    All content is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0, except where otherwise stated.

    Link to this comment Reply
  2. Intellectual Property Office

    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.

    Link to this comment Reply
  3. Jack Sparrow

    Super-ignorant article

    Link to this comment Reply
  4. Ben Wright

    Why are you praising the National Portrait Gallery for fraudulently asserting copyright over public domain images?

    The IPO itself even knows that simple digitisation of public domain works results in public domain digital copies: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/481194/c-notice-201401.pdf

    Link to this comment Reply
  5. Nathan Olsen

    You know this is fraud right? As in these images are not copyrighted? Aren't you folks supposed to know this stuff? Isn't this your job?

    Link to this comment Reply
  6. Andrew

    This whole post is just... wrong. How on earth can the National Portrait Gallery claim copyright on works where the original creators are unknown? Never mind the fact that these works are clearly public domain given their age.

    Additionally, how can you, as a representative of the Intellectual Property Office, praise this blatant copyfraud? One doesn't get a new copyright when merely digitizing an exisiting image. Your same office has said scant months ago that "copyright can only subsist in subject matter that is original in the sense that it is the author’s own 'intellectual creation'. Given this criteria, it seems unlikely that what is merely a retouched, digitised image of an older work can be considered as 'original'. This is because there will generally be minimal scope for a creator to exercise free and creative choices if their aim is simply to make a faithful reproduction of an existing work." ref:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/481194/c-notice-201401.pdf

    Link to this comment Reply
  7. Paul Durrant

    While the provision of on-line access to images is welcome, it seems rather strange to praise the National Gallery for charging "licensing fees" for images that are in the public domain according to your own advice:

    "However, according to the Court of Justice of the European Union which has effect in UK law, copyright can only subsist in subject matter that is original in the sense that it is the author’s own 'intellectual creation'. Given this criteria, it seems unlikely that what is merely a retouched, digitised image of an older work can be considered as 'original'. This is because there will generally be minimal scope for a creator to exercise free and creative choices if their aim is simply to make a faithful reproduction of an existing work."

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/481194/c-notice-201401.pdf (page 3)

    Link to this comment Reply
  8. pegr

    Fancy that! Licensing images that are obviously in the public domain... Here in the States, we call that copyfraud!

    Link to this comment Reply

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