Copyright Law &Museum Industry

Adrian Shaun Joseph

17 Jun 2021 3:45 PM GMT

  • Copyright Law &Museum Industry

    Copyright Law and the Museum industry may sound like an odd fit. But in truth, they are intricately linked in their purpose and the object, which is essentially to promote and encourage the progress of Science and art in order to constantly maintain the value and heritage attached to certain works. Museums have been defined by the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences...

    Copyright Law and the Museum industry may sound like an odd fit. But in truth, they are intricately linked in their purpose and the object, which is essentially to promote and encourage the progress of Science and art in order to constantly maintain the value and heritage attached to certain works. Museums have been defined by the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences as-

    "an organised and permanent non-profit institution, essentially educational for aesthetic in purpose, with professional staff, which owns and utilizes tangible objects, cares for them, and exhibits them to the public on some regular schedule".

    The International Council of Museums (ICOM) defines museum as-

    "a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study education, and enjoyment, material evidence of humans and their environment".

    The work of a Museum consists in three primary functions, namely: collection, preservation, and research. The primary objective of a museum is to gather and collect state-of-the-art masterpieces and artistic works. The second objective of museums is to conduct research. Museums must also share a solid bond with the Archaeological units to enable field-research.

    Museums also conduct public programs in the form of exhibitions, short films, light and sound shows, etc in order to attract tourists and enthusiasts. Museums have also entered into the digital age with the aim to widen the accessibility of the works which would otherwise remain inaccessible.

    Art museums specialise in works ranging from photography, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and other categories of work which are separated into different smaller spaces which are called as the galleries.. The Louvre in France is the world's most popular Art Museum Having over than 7.3 million visitors across the globe each year.

    The museum industry is owned, managed and controlled by the law of copyright.

    Suppose, a Museum named "A" plans to hold an exhibition of a painting of a renowned artist, and is also considering three of the artist's works for purchase. The exhibition consists of works on loan from other museums and some private collections. For the broadcasting of the exhibition, photographers are also hired to take pictures of the paintings and of the event which will be used for promotions also. The exhibition also includes critical essays written by prominent authors which have been included in a catalogue prepared for the event which also includes the poster advertising the event. A dance troop will also be performing a performance having background pictures of the same artist. This is the sequence of events from which questions Copyright law arise-

    • Are paintings which are exhibited or on sale subject to copyright protection?
    • What are the copyright implications of displaying paintings which have been brought on loan?
    • What can be the implications of publishing critical essays written by prominent authors?
    • Are photographs taken at the museum copyrightable? If yes, who owns the copyright? Is it the Museum, the artist, or the photographers themselves?
    • What can be the copyright issues attached to the dance performances?
    • Is the Museum considering the moral rights of these performers?

    These are a few questions which indicate the importance of the law of copyright specifically in the context of a museum.


    The limitations and exceptions which can be incorporated in the copyright law to benefit the museum industry has been discussed by the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) established by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). All the members of WIPO are associated with the committee which observes copyright and related issues and formulates recommendations.

    Not only for the benefit of the Museum industry, Copyright law must have some limitations and exceptions in order to benefit persons such as authors, artists, performers, broadcasters and the audience, and facilitate the free flow of information, education, research and dissemination of knowledge.

    To have a cultural heritage policy is the need of the hour. For smooth functioning and management of these industries and to protect and preserve the cultural and artistic heritage for the present and future generation, the general conference of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted the World Heritage Convention (WHC) on 16th November, 1972.

    Another very important aspect which must be considered while providing limitations and exceptions to the copyright mechanism is the concept of moral rights of the authors and owners of the associated work. Article 6bis of the Berne Convention[1] recognises and incorporates moral rights of the authors and performers. They can be broadly classified into the right of integrity, right of attribution, right of communicating the work to the public, and right of circulation. Limitations and exceptions provided to the law of copyright must take into account these moral rights and in a situation where the limitation made is not able to protect the moral rights, the author/owner must be compensated.

    According to the standing committee on copyright and related rights (SCCR) administered by WIPO, specific kinds of categories of exceptions and limitations that can be made to the copyright regime:

    Specific Exceptions and Limitations - Some of these exceptions include use of works in exhibition catalogues, reproduction for preservation purposes, usage of orphan works and communication to the public on the premise of museums.

    1.Use of works in Exhibition Catalogues- Advertisement of items in a museum can attract legal issues by the virtue of copyright law. To enable expansion of the reach and presence of museums, they must be exempted in respect of advertisement.

    2.Reproduction for Preservation Purposes- Preservation of artwork in a digital form must be allowed. Collecting the paintings, drawings, sculpture, Artistic craftsmanship is not the only task which can justify the purpose and object of the existence of a museum but to constantly maintain that value the artwork should be protected against deterioration, theft, etc. Reproduction of works must be permitted in order to preserve and restore the collections. Digital Technologies can be very helpful in this regard, subject to the copyright regime.

    3. Use of Orphan works- When the author or owner of the work is unknown, it becomes difficult to obtain their consent. Hence, such orphan works must be allowed an exception, as is allowed in museums in the European Union.

    4. Communication to the public on the premises of the museum- Besides the conventional method of having an attractive and state-of-the-art collection in the galleries of the museum, museums must also be allowed to communicate their own work to the public in other ways. The digital medium is one of the best ways for such communication, but the copyright laws in most jurisdictions restrict it. Communication in the form of cinematograph film, sound recordings, and live performances must be allowed at museums. For example, the Akshardham temple at New Delhi, has a light and sound show, with fountains, which communicates the work to the public the history and artistic craftsmanship of the temple.

    These were some specific limitations and exceptions which can be supplemented by some general exceptions such as reproduction for personal purposes, reprographic reproductions and use for educational purposes.

    S. 52 of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957, talks about an exception where unpublished works have certain "permitted uses." Where a museum has unpublished work whose author is not known, anybody who has access to the museum can not only reproduce that work but can also publish it.

    Copyright law covers artistic, literary, dramatic, musical works, etc. These works can form an autonomous field of study and access to these works will encourage and motivate others to contribute their ideas and talent to the growth of the arts. Incorporating these limitations and exceptions can help the museum industry showcase and represent the artwork and cultural heritage of a nation. Copyright laws must be eased with respect to such activities, for societal benefit. They should be permitted to reproduce copyrighted work for the purpose of cultural preservation. This exemption should also secure the public's right of access to such works.

    Few suggestions to reconcile copyright with promotion of artwork in museums are

    useums must be given the permission in adopting various ways through which they want to communicate their work to the public.

    In case of a dispute, the Judiciary must balance the rights of both parties.

    Specific copyright societies must be established in order to consider copyright issues faced by museums.

    A law must be enacted in this regard in order to ensure smooth functioning and management of museums.

    All the copyright information related to artworks in museums must be centralised in an autonomous body working specifically for the betterment of museums.

    This will positively affect not only the goodwill of the museum community but will also promote authenticity, and uniqueness of artistic productions and encourage appreciation for art in the society. Heads of the state, lawmakers, the judiciary, copyright societies, the media, and us the common citizens, must all work together in order to rejuvenate the faded charm of the museums.

    Views are personal.

    [1] Article 6bis of the Berne Convention reads as- "Moral Right"

    6bisA. This Article, introduced into the Convention in Rome (1928), is an important provision since it underlines that in addition to pecuniary or economic benefits, copyright also includes rights of a moral kind. These stem from the fact that the work is a reflection of the personality of its creator, just as the economic rights reflect the author's need to keep body and soul together.

    6bis.2. The opening of Article 6bis, which has remained unchanged, apart from a slight drafting amendment in Brussels (1948), lays down that the Convention covers this "moral right" or rights.

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