How should the cultural sector exploit its digital images?

At the round table event organised by the Copyright Hub last September in Barcelona, one issue of discussion was how cultural organisations should approach the use and licensing of their digital images. This is a summary of that discussion.

There are many similarities but also some differences in the way that cultural organisations treat
their digital images.

Almost all organisations view these images as being part of the wider cultural resource they provide
to the public. They therefore tend to let them be used for free for educational use. As well, many
share their content with Europeana, which provides a central portal for European culture online.

Fundamentally, of course, it is important in so many ways that this body of resource reaches as many people as possible online. The Internet represents the chance for millions of people who would otherwise not be able to enjoy some of these artifacts, to experience them online. But at what cost is this achieved and how can museums and galleries recognise the value of this process?

One of the areas of difference is where commercial use is made of images. It tends to be that where
a museum or gallery charges for admission, licensing of images for reuse is less important to overall
revenue, but for those who have a policy of charging little or nothing for entry, commercial reuse
can represent a significant addition to funds. But, nobody would want to see this difference put
organisations in competition with each other.

The last decade or so has seen the commoditisation of the image market. Social media has caused
an explosion in volume and sharing. Also, pressure from newspapers and magazines, themselves
under pressure from the large aggregators, has seen prices drop substantially and this affects the
cultural sector too.

But, despite the somewhat gloomy background, this discussion group has started to see some signs
of positive change and was optimistic about the future.

The concept of subscription, either in its current format or in some new wider reaching format, will
build community around content, which will in turn increase the quality of content offered; all
important in bringing advertising revenues back to online publications. Community has wider

Social media is not the enemy of content but can be truly useful in identifying the
interested constituency for specific types of content and can be harnessed for good. As an example,
using crowd sourcing for image tagging is starting to be used and provides immediate benefits to all

For the cultural sector, value is not just monetary. Information is also valuable. Information about
how content is used, where it is used and by whom it is used can be just as valuable. Moreover, it is
not just the content that is valuable; the data around the content is valuable also.

But to build on this and capitalise on the opportunities that are beginning to present themselves, we
need to know where the content is and people who come across it need to know what it is; for
example, attribution – where does an image comes from.

This is where ARDITO proves its worth. By joining content up across the Internet and making it
possible to see where content is being used it provides the tools for cultural organisations to
maximise the value of their assets.