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The Image Economy: Introduction

Module by: Hilary Ballon, Mariet Westermann. E-mail the authors

Summary: Introduction to "Art History and Its Publications in the Electronic Age", Part II, "The Image Economy".

Scholarly publications in art history are fundamentally dependent on high-quality images for effective documentation and argument. Copyright law, permission procedures and fees, and the labor-intensive processes of color separation and high-quality printing have long formed obstacles to cost-effective and timely publication. As of yet, these challenges have not been mitigated by the advent of digital image (re)production. Initial prospects of easier, cheaper, and global circulation of images, expectations of fee reductions and widening fair use practices, and hopes of de facto deregulation of copyright restrictions have faded. It is a paradox of the digital revolution that it has never been easier to produce and circulate a reproductive image, and never harder to publish one.1

Scholars and editors consistently identified mounting costs of permissions to reproduce images and escalating costs of printing them as constraining factors in the publishing of scholarly books with the kinds of illustrations required for clear communication in art history. Authors, publishers, librarians, and owners of copyrighted works of art and reproductive images also registered considerable confusion about copyright law and fair use. Some publishers, copyright owners, distributors, and users of images have begun to devise solutions posed by the current image economy.2 Below, the issues are separated into sections on copyright ownership, fair use, permissions and fees, image quality and access, costs to publishers, responses to the challenges posed by art history’s need for good illustrations, and print-on-demand.

Footnotes

  1. The perception was phrased in this way by a scholarly editor, and it was echoed throughout the study by senior scholars, junior scholars, and academic and commercial publishers.
  2. "The image economy" is Susan M. Bielstein’s insightful term to encompass the range of issues precipitated by art history’s dependence on high-quality reproductions.

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