The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Don’t Look: On Copyrighted Images of Quilts and a Handy Resource Guide
One of the hardest parts of my job as a magazine editor and columnist relates to images. And yes, I need to whine about it for a minute, but I am ultimately doing this for the quilt-public good!
Ahh…now there’s a beautiful image: the “copyright free” symbol. Image: Wikipedia.It’s an interesting thing, because the ratio of words to images in both Quiltfolk magazine and the Quilt Scout is probably somewhere in the realm of 500:1 and I feel that’s a conservative estimate. But no, it’s not all those words that make me pound my head quite so hard as I do when I have to source outside images.
An outside image is one that does not come from “in-house,” aka, an image that you or your company did not personally take or otherwise have the rights to publish. If you run an outside image without securing the rights to publish it, you’ll be in violation of copyright and this is a penalty that can be very, very expensive either because you have to pay a nasty fine or because you have to go to court and pay a lawyer and also pay a nasty fine. Has anyone ever gone to jail for copyright infringement? I don’t know and I do not want to find out, so I don’t roll the dice with outside images.
I should say that the vast majority of the time, the outside images for which I need publishing permission fall into two categories: 1) flat shots of quilts and 2) historical images. For example, for a feature in the upcoming Kentucky issue of Quiltfolk, I needed to run pictures of a few “Temperance” quilts as well as a picture of Carrie Nation. It’s a good thing I believed strongly in running the piece because I knew it was going to take serious fortitude and gnashing of teeth to get those outside images. There are two primary reasons why this would surely be the case.
To begin with, purchasing the rights to run a picture, even just one time, is not cheap. How not-cheap typically depends on who you are and where you want the image to appear. It sounds arbitrary because it kind of is, but in publishing, at least, there is some hard data to use when pricing an image, and that data comes from a publication’s circulation numbers.
If Conde Nast wants to run a picture of a Gee’s Bend quilt in Vogue and the copyright for that picture is owned by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Conde Nast will pay a pile of money for permission to run the photo. Rights for the very same photo of the quilt will still cost a lot (it’s MOMA, after all) but the photo will cost significantly less to a regional university art journal, because let’s face it: a lot fewer people are going to see that picture.
A few years ago, the Met released over 300 quilt-related images to the public domain, like this gorgeous Star of LeMoyne, c. 1860. Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Let’s make this personal: Would MOMA come after me, the lowly Quilt Scout, for running that same Gee’s Bend quilt picture in one of these columns? Probably not, because I am personally the equivalent of a regional art journal. But relatively speaking, Quilts, Inc. is more in the Vogue tax bracket, so MOMA could and probably would come after Quilts, Inc. for recompense and — here’s the understatement of the century — this would not be good. The same would be true if I violated image copyright in an issue of Quiltfolk. So, children, what have we learned? You gotta get the rights to publish a copyrighted image or face the dire consequences.
The problem with that is copyrighted pictures are expensive no matter who you are. Vogue can gripe about paying thousands for that gorgeous Pettway quilt, but they can do it, at least; the dinky art journal probably doesn’t even have a budget for obtaining copyrighted pictures. (It’s still a very good art journal.)
Well, it’s not large enough to print — but it’s free!
The second reason sourcing outside images for quilt columns and quilt magazines is so agonizing is because they are rarely good enough. What I mean is that they are often too “low-res” to be fit to print. This might actually be more painful than the money part because even if you have a huge budget for getting outside image rights, if the picture’s quality isn’t up to par, there’s no amount of money that will fix that.
In publishing, an image is measured by how many dots/pixels fit into one inch; this is called the dpi or ppi. The higher the resolution, the sharper the image, and the minimum dpi for print is 300 dpi. So you could find the perfect portrait of Marie Webster, and you might even get the rights to run it, but if the resolution is only 150 dpi…See ya, Marie.
So yes, until I am running a media empire with the clout and deep pockets of a Conde Nast, sourcing outside images of quilts and quilt people will be a struggle. And it will be a struggle for you, too, which is why I decided to write about this in this week’s Scout.
I happen to know that many of you have blogs, print patterns, send out newsletters, print marketing materials, maintain websites, and otherwise have the occasional (or frequent) need to print/publish a picture of a quilt or person(s) related to quilting. Some of you may be rolling the dice when you print these pictures; others of you just haven’t been apprised of the whole copyright thing until now.
Aw, so sweet! Free for commercial use and big enough to look nice on paper. Thanks, Flickr! Image: Flickr Commons.
Either way, I feel you could probably benefit from a short list of places where you can get public domain images, copyright-free images, images that are allowed to be used for commercial purposes, etc. Of course, I’ll give the same disclaimer that all of these sites give, too: It’s your responsibility to make sure you can use these pictures, and that means you have to know 100% that you do, or you have to contact the people who own the rights. As for resolution, baby, I’m afraid you’re on your own for that!
These sites have helped me a great deal in my quilt media endeavors. You’ll find some are way, way better than others. But may some or all of them help you, too, friend. I’ve even linked you directly to a quilt-related page of the website. Happy photo hunting!
The Quilt Scout’s Handy Guide To 5 Websites
Where You Can Source Probably-Copyright-Free Quilt-Related Images