Image Licensing in the Digital Age

As I wrap up the special issue of Women’s Writing on Dinah Mulock Craik that I’ve been editing, one of my last tasks is to pick an image for the cover.  One of the most tangible and exciting things to come out of the internet era for those of us who work on lesser-known authors is that there are new images them popping up as museums and art galleries digitize their collections.  Presumably we all have Branwell’s portrait of the Brontë sisters engraved in our minds, and if a gallery had a stunning oil of Charlotte or Emily in their archives it would have been known well-before the internet era. But, for lesser-known authors digitization really is making all sorts of previously unknown letters and images public.  In fact, someone who works at the Ransom Center at UT Austin told me that they’ve become noticeably busier in rare books since catalogues went online and scholars could more easily figure out just what the holdings are.

But, back to my question about the cover image for Dinah Mulock Craik.  The most well-known image of Craik (if you can call any image of Craik well-known!) is an engraving that dates from around the same time as this 1887 painting by Sir Hubert von Herkomer:

Dinah Maria Craik by Sir Hubert von Herkomer; 1887, Image Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

The engraving is presumably well-known precisely because it was engraved and thus circulated more widely than an oil painting like this one could be.

There are several tantalizing new images of Craik at the National Portrait Gallery and the Art Institute of Chicago.  The National Portrait Gallery makes their images available for non-commercial, non-professional uses via a Creative Commons license (which is amazing!), so I include it below.  The other ones you’ll just have to follow the link to!

Dinah Maria Craik by Amelia Robertson Hill, 1845, Image Courtesy National Portrait Gallery

I like these images because they are from earlier on in her career, the first so early, 1845, that it coincides with the first year she had work published in Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal, when she was 19.  The ones at Chicago are from the height of her fame c. 1858 and most likely taken by her brother Ben, who was a photographer who worked with Joe Mayall.

It’s so thrilling that these images of Craik are becoming available.  But after looking into costs, I decided that I just couldn’t justify the pricey licensing fee that it would take use one of these photos for the cover of the special issue, especially when there is a good photo of Craik from the same year and probably the same photo session available for free in this privately printed book, now in the public domain.

My thought process was that in the digital era, most people will probably be downloading  the articles in the special issue, and thus not even seeing the cover.  And, even if they did look it up the special issue in paper form, libraries often take off the cover for binding.  So, sigh, I won’t be bringing new portraits to the masses in this issue.  Though, there will be, for the first time ever, an image of her handwriting in a great article by Martha Stoddard Holmes that draws on her unpublished diaries.

Is the digital era changing the way you think about image licensing and where your resources should go?

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