I am currently engaged on collecting together materials for my Quaker meeting's 350th anniversary. As you can imagine, Quaker paintings for the 17th and 18th century are a bit thin on the ground, so I was delighted when I found a picture which is apparently in the National Portrait Gallery, of Benjamin West the celebrated painter, and his father, John West, who was an Uxbridge Quaker at the beginning of the 18th century.
I contacted the National Portrait Gallery to find out about the cost of having a print of the painting and also to ask about permission to reproduce in the leaflet that we will be producing. This is likely to have a short print run, and be handed out to a few people during our open days in September and October.
I really expected that they would tell me that as the artist died in 1814 and the painting was first published in 1779, there was no copyrght payable. Not so, however. Unlike the US where you are unable to claim copyright in a photograph which only includes a work which is out of copyright, the National Portrait Gallery would like to charge me the cost of a black and white print for the painting and then £25.10 including VAT for the coyright fee.
It is possible for me to go to the National Portrait Gallery and take pictures myself, but if I do, they claim copyright on my photographs too! As it outlines on their web page (my italics and emboldening):
Copyright and the National Portrait Gallery
As a National Gallery, we have a public duty, not only to display and conserve the works in our collection, but also to ensure that the works are correctly represented in reproductions and publications of these works. As a result of continuing research, from time to time, adjustments are made in the attributions of both artists and sitters for paintings. It is also extremely important that pictures are represented in their most recent state of restoration. There are, in many other cases, issues for the artists, sitters, donors or lenders of works in the collection, to which, as an institution, we have to be sensitive. For these reasons, we need to control very tightly the circumstances and quality of reproductions from the collection.
In order to do this, we have a very active picture library and licencing department, which loans transparencies for the purpose of reproduction. We also exert strict controls on all photography in the Gallery, which is allowed only on the understanding that copyright rests with the us and that any further reproduction deriving from the resulting photographic materials is subject to our written permission.
The National Portrait Gallery is a strong supporter of free entry - we do not think visitors should have to pay in order to see the collection. Those who may never be able to visit us can still enjoy and learn about the collection through the images published in books, magazines, on the television and the Internet. The Picture Library raises money by licensing such reproduction, which supports the 'free entry' policy and the Gallery's main functions in looking after its paintings, drawings, etchings and sculptures, and in teaching people about the works.
I have written to protest about this abuse of their position. It looks as though I may be able to obtain the images without copyright fee from American museums, and if I can, I shall.
I will await the National Portrait Gallery's response with interest.