Inna Kizhner, Julia Stanckevich, Maxim Rumyantsev, Melissa Terras

Licensing Images from Russian Museums for an Academic Project within Russian Legislation

Paper Presentations IIICopyright and Sustainability

Museums tend to deal with a tension resulting from a conflict between their mission to disseminate the information about museum objects and necessity to limit access to object representations/digital reproductions. Resolving this tension involves building up the  knowledge on how museums imagine providing permissions to publish digital reproductions of their objects in an open access publication. The paper discusses the results of an experiment where a part of Russian museums provided digital reproductions and permissions to publish images for a university project.

Declared museum policies and their relation to copyright law might be one thing, while museum actions related to digital rights and permissions may be quite different. This paper seeks to compare Russian museum policies with real life museum responses to the requests to provide digital images for an educational project.

The Russian legislation related to museum policies concerning digital rights covering art images includes the provisions from the Russian Civil Code (1994) on the public domain. The second important law is ‘The Law on the RF Museum Collections and RF Museums’ (1996). According to the law, museums are to provide the use of museum objects and collections for scholarly and educational purposes. The same law explains that any copying of museum images can be done only if permitted by museum senior management. Russian museum policies published on museum web sites tend to inform that an image can be copied after receiving a written permission from museum senior management.  This seems to demonstrate that envisioned museum policies would be to provide images in the public domain for an open access publication if a request for a written permission is sent from an educational institution (in case rights for photographic reproductions are hold by a museum).

We sent enquiries to 182 Russian museums (see Figure 1) asking them to provide images for a digital collection of selected museum objects from historical and fine arts museums to be stored at the Research Library of Siberian Federal University. We also asked them to provide objects’ metadata and permissions either to access images from university computers or permit open access.


Fig. 1. Places where we sent requests to take part in the project and provide images.

Non-response rate was 78% (Figure 2), we received 40 responses, most responses came from large provincial museums (Figure 3). The museums did not ask for a fee when they allowed us to publish images on the university web site.


Fig. 2. Types of responses to 184 letters sent to Russian museums with an invitation to participate in the project.


Fig. 3. Places with museums that agreed to participate in the project and provide images.

As shown in Figure 4, a half of museums preferred to permit open access, 43% chose not to specify their terms.

Afbeelding4Fig. 4. Type of access to museum images.

Our experiment has demonstrated that large provincial museums are indeed interested in promoting their collections in an academic environment. First, they tend to follow the policies implying  providing permissions to use images without charging a university a fee. Second, our approach provides an understanding that feeling of ‘control’ (Kelly 2013) is still important for museums and their permissions are only related to the project specified in a formal request. This might mean that moving images across interfaces (Robinson 2013) is burdened by the necessity to follow a complex set of rules and the feeling of ‘control’ which prevents museums from letting the public use images in the way that they may feel is inappropriate (Kelly 2013).  Building a networked curated environment (Drucker 2013) as an academic project and scholarly endeavor might still be an exciting dream rather than reality within Russian legislation and complications of museum policies. These results demonstrate the power of the approach in finding out whether museums are indeed interested in links with an academic environment and what their policies might imply.