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Permissions, a survival guide : blunt talk…
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Permissions, a survival guide : blunt talk about art as intellectual…

by Susan M. Bielstein

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I can't recommend this book highly enough to all non-fiction authors. Not only does it give sound, practical advice on how to acquire rights to reproduce images in printed works, and carefully tackles the difference between copyright permissions and "use" permissions, it also answers all those "what if" questions everyone attempting to find the right illustrations or photographs to accompany their text grapples with. What if I just sneak into a museum and take my own pictures? What if I just scan a picture of the picture I want from a book? What if I just use pictures from sites such as flickr? Why am I still being asked to pay for permission to reproduce something that was made 1000 years ago, surely the artist is dead?!

Do yourself a favor: put your manuscript aside for a few hours and read this book now. It's not only full of useful advice, it's also well-written and a delightful read. In fact, even non-authors would enjoy Permissions for its amusing anecdotes and stories drawn from Bielstein's experiences as an Executive Editor at the U. of Chicago Press. Moreover, it raises some very real questions as to the role museums are playing: isn't one of their objectives to make art more accessible to the world? Why then are they the institutions demanding reproduction fees that often prevent authors from being able to illustrate their scholarly and non-fiction works in ways that make reading more enjoyable and educational?

Bielstein asks for more reasoned consideration by those who set the fees, and has several good suggestions for how such fees, and/or application of "Fair Use" could help save what otherwise might turn into the death of published, illustrated art books.

[2015 update]
Since I wrote this review seven years ago, I am delighted to announce that some world-class forward-looking institutions are doing just this--making their collections available online for whatever purpose whatsoever--whether for educational or even profit-making activities. ("What better publicity for us than someone putting one of our paintings on a T-Shirt?" asked the museum's director.) The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum is leading the way and hopefully other institutions will follow in their footsteps. I cannot praise them enough for taking this bold (and to me, obvious) step and use artefacts from their collection in my lectures to students, museum docents, and the general public with the most enthusiastic of endorsements and thanks. Visit their website and see for yourself. ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
Bielstein manages to be both informative and entertaining in this excellent long essay on the pitfalls of securing publication rights for visual images. I was extremely appreciative of some of the concrete information she provides for authors, especially art historians (me).

But beyond those tips and tricks, this is actually a really enjoyable book written in a conversational style. It sometimes seems like a one-woman war, but Bielstein eloquently takes on the greed of museums who believe that they can charge hundreds of dollars for images that belong to the public. Raging against the tide, perhaps, but it's necessary to hear these voices. ( )
  sansmerci | Dec 22, 2013 |
Susan Bielstein is the executive editor for art, architecture, classical studies, and film at the University of Chicago Press. In that capacity, she has dealt with the vexed and complex question of how intellectual property law applies to the visual arts, in the context of the use of images to illustrate academic texts.

Now, it would not be unreasonable for you to think that this is a subject that only lawyers could love, but you would be wrong. In Bielstein's capable hands, it is a fascinating and, at times, even humorous subject. The distinctions between copyright permission and use permission, the way practicalities (the need for a reproducible image, the desire to avoid offending an institution with which one may have to deal in the future) affect whether and how one requests permission, the intricacies of determining what is in copyright, these are the stuff from which she has created a volume that is of great practical use to the author, editor and publisher.

But the non-professional will also find it of interest. How does the ease with which technology allows reproduction of images affect these issues? What is the interplay between property rights and personalty rights and privacy? What effect does the institutional claim of copyright over images that are likely public domain have on future use? These are questions the answers to which concern us all, because they will have an impact on the availability of information. An example from my own recent reading comes to mind. I had read a non-fiction book about a Caravaggio painting, and commented negatively on the absence of images. How, I wondered, was it possible to write a book about a piece of art without showing us that art? I think now that it is quite likely that permission to use images of the work was denied. If that is the case, then I can say without hesitation that the book was much the poorer for it. Why an institution would deny such permission (or make the cost prohibitive) is, frankly, beyond me.

To make her points, Bielstein has included with every image information regarding not merely the copyright, but whether and how much of a fee was requested, how the image was obtained (JPEG, transparency, etc.), and sometimes lengthy explications of the image's status.

As she says, "Welcome to the Fun House."
4 vote lilithcat | Jul 21, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226046389, Paperback)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it's a good bet that at least half of those words relate to the picture's copyright status. Art historians, artists, and anyone who wants to use the images of others will find themselves awash in byzantine legal terms, constantly evolving copyright law, varying interpretations by museums and estates, and despair over the complexity of the whole situation. Here, on a white—not a high—horse, Susan Bielstein offers her decades of experience as an editor working with illustrated books. In doing so, she unsnarls the threads of permissions that have ensnared scholars, critics, and artists for years.

Organized as a series of “takes” that range from short sidebars to extended discussions, Permissions, A Survival Guide explores intellectual property law as it pertains to visual imagery. How can you determine whether an artwork is copyrighted? How do you procure a high-quality reproduction of an image? What does “fair use” really mean? Is it ever legitimate to use the work of an artist without permission? Bielstein discusses the many uncertainties that plague writers who work with images in this highly visual age, and she does so based on her years navigating precisely these issues. As an editor who has hired a photographer to shoot an incredibly obscure work in the Italian mountains (a plan that backfired hilariously), who has tried to reason with artists' estates in languages she doesn't speak, and who has spent her time in the archival trenches, she offers a snappy and humane guide to this difficult terrain.

Filled with anecdotes, asides, and real courage, Permissions, A Survival Guide is a unique handbook that anyone working in the visual arts will find invaluable, if not indispensable.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:05 -0400)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it's a good bet that at least half of those words relate to the picture's copyright status. Art historians, artists, and anyone who wants to use the images of others will find themselves awash in byzantine legal terms, constantly evolving copyright law, varying interpretations by museums and estates, and despair over the complexity of the whole situation. Here, on a white--not a high--horse, Susan Bielstein offers her decades of experience as an editor working with illustrated books. In doing so, she unsnarls the threads of permissions that have ensna.… (more)

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