Cultural heritage photo fees, associations appeal to minister

Appeals by industry associations to Minister Sangiuliano to revise the new fee schedule for photographs of cultural property, which narrows the range of users into free of charge, in contrast to international policies on the subject, continue.

Calls are mounting for Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano to revise Ministerial Decree 161 of April 11, by which the guidelines for determining the minimum amounts of fees and charges for the concession of use of assets in consignment to state cultural sites were launched(we have discussed them in detail here). Summing up briefly, the main bone of contention is the restriction of those for whom free reproductions are provided, which the new guidelines grant only to those doing non-profit activities. Anyone, on the other hand, who does for-profit activity, regardless of whether it is advertising, commercial activity, research or dissemination (for example, a scientific journal that publishes for a fee), will have to pay a fee.

Over the past few days, an open letter from theItalian Association for the Promotion of Open Science (AISA) first reached the minister, calling for an immediate change in ministerial policies regarding the scientific use of cultural heritage images. According to AISA, in the decree “principles and rules are established that harm scientific research, contradict decades of open science and open cultural heritage policies (policies, moreover, transversal to governments of different political sign) and place Italy outside international and European Union guidelines.”

The association points its finger, in particular, at the passage in the decree stating that “it is necessary to protect the heritage represented by the images, including digital images, of our cultural heritage, through an adequate remuneration that takes into account the principles set forth in Articles 107 and 108 of the Cultural Heritage and Landscape Code. In this sense, it seems essential to define a ministerial fee schedule, single, distinct by macro-categories of cultural heritage, which defines the minimum fees to be applied on the occasion of the different forms of temporary use of the ministerial cultural heritage assets, including where they take advantage of modern technologies (NFT, blockchain etc.).” The new ministerial policy, in AISA’s view, “aims to reduce public funding by forcing cultural heritage institutions to engage in the development, at non-zero administrative and monetary costs, of greater self-financing capacity. This is a policy that is flawed in its underlying rationale and ineluctably doomed to failure, as evidenced by the similar ’strategy’ tested in the university and public research sector.” AISA speaks of “absurd and paradoxical outcomes of this new policy direction,” which become, according to the association, “evident in the nonprofit scientific publishing sector of university publishing houses and in that of nascent open access publishing (Open Access). If the guidelines were interpreted literally, one would have to imagine cases such as one in which a state museum requests the application of a fee schedule to a public university for the reproduction of cultural heritage images in the public domain. Such an application would result in an unnecessary turn of public money (from the university to the museum) with no benefit to state coffers and, indeed, with an increase in costs for the public administration resulting from the bureaucratic burdening of the process leading to scientific publication.”

In conclusion, according to AISA, “These normative acts place Italy out of contemporary as well as international, European and national policies aimed at combining the protection and enhancement of cultural heritage with the principles of open science and open access,” which is why the association calls for “an ’immediate modification of ministerial policies that go in the direction of a total and absolute liberalization, without payment of fees, of the reproduction and reuse for scientific purposes of the cultural assets of the Italian heritage,” and hopes for “the amendment of the Code of Cultural Heritage in order to establish by legislation the principle of free reproduction and free reuse of cultural assets for scientific purposes.”

Then came the comments of theItalian Library Association (AIB), which signed a document together with representatives of scientific societies and university councils, Associations of doctoral students, research assignees and young researchers, and Associations of cultural heritage professionals and institutes, sent to Minister Sangiuliano with the aim of encouraging discussion. The issuance of the Guidelines for the determination of the minimum amounts of fees and charges for the concession of use of property in consignment to state institutes and places of culture has aroused, the AIB recalls, “perplexity and apprehension among the members of the scientific and professional associations we represent,” partly because the associations, about a year ago, had been formally involved in the drafting of the Guidelines for the Acquisition, Circulation and Reuse of Reproductions of Cultural Property in the Digital Environment, issued by the Ministry of Culture itself in June 2022. “The fact that the new DM 161 counts the release and use of reproductions of cultural property among the uses subject to concession does not seem consistent with the dictate of the previous Guidelines to which we contributed,” stresses the AIB, to which it “regrets to note that the failure to involve the communities of reference represented by the associations of scholars, professionals and users of archives, libraries and museums has led to the outlining of an operational framework that is difficult for the Ministry’s offices to implement and inconsistent with European directives and international scientific guidelines on the promotion of open access, the reuse of research sources and data, and the enhancement of cultural heritage.” The hope, therefore, is for an “opening of a discussion that, involving the interested parties, will come to identify the corrective measures that can make the rule virtuous, coordinated with current regulations and concretely applicable.”

Several, according to AIB, points need to be clarified. For example, with regard to the fee schedule listing reimbursements for each type of service, “it is unclear how the related out-of-pocket costs (the only ones to be reimbursed) are calculated, and it is worrying, for example, that in order to obtain 40 pages of A4 color photocopies, a student, a scholar, a citizen interested in obtaining them must incur the expense of 20 euros, in addition to any shipping costs; the cost of the digitized copy (with printing on a file) of the same 40 pages, turns out to be even doubled (if low resolution) or tripled (if medium resolution), when it should be much lower than that of printing on paper, considering that the cost of producing a low or medium resolution digital copy, obtainable with a normal photocopier, is lower than that of printing on paper, since it involves the same operations necessary for the production of photocopies on paper, minus those of printing on paper, with savings on the related costs.”

Regarding for-profit reproductions, AIB notes that the system of calculating rates is “not easily understood,” not least because then “individual state institutions are then invited to define their own rate schedule, which, consequently, may even be increasing.” In addition, the association points out, “this classification of commercial uses includes the publication of publishing products, marking a clear step backward compared to the Guidelines for the Acquisition, Circulation and Reuse of Reproductions of Cultural Heritage in the Digital Environment, adopted by the Central Institute for the Digitization of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture in the ’as part of the National Digitization Plan in June 2022, which had had the merit of making the publication of images of state cultural property free of charge in any publishing product, regardless of the print run, cover price and type of publishing product, in order to ’facilitate first and foremost the dissemination of scientific research and the enhancement of cultural heritage, as explicitly provided for in the Code, but more in general to promote the publishing system, which is already frequently the subject of contributions and forms of economic support from the government, also in view of the limited revenue margins for authors and publishers of publications reproducing cultural heritage’. Another interesting argument underlying that indication was (and remains!) that ’the continued application of reproduction rights on publishing products in the medium term could induce national and international publishers to search for images of works of art from the websites of foreign cultural institutions that already allow the free downloading and reuse of the same images, with the risk therefore of a progressive marginalization of our country’s cultural heritage.’”

Specifically, the new ministerial decree provides for a fee (in addition to the costs of the reproduction service) for all publishing products printed in more than 1,000 copies and with a cover price of more than 50 euros. The fee, which rises progressively as the number of copies and the cover price increase, operates regardless of whether the publication is a monograph or a scholarly journal article. “In this way,” says the AIB, “we go back even to the DM April 8, 1994, which provided much higher thresholds of gratuity for monographs (70 euros and 2,000 copies in circulation), as well as total gratuity for publications in periodicals, which are now being charged. Given that authors do not receive any remuneration for publishing articles in scholarly journals, forcing them to pay to incorporate reproductions of cultural property in the public domain into the article according to the journal’s circulation not only puts them at a disadvantage compared to their German or French or Anglo-Saxon colleagues, who can count on significantly greater funding for scientific research than is available in Italy, but will cause them, alternatively, not to publish in high-circulation journals, foregoing the widest dissemination and evaluation of their research products; to focus their research on other objects, foregoing the enhancement of those held by the state’s cultural institutions.” And then, in the case of e-books, the “number of estimated downloads” will have to be taken into account: “so authors,” according to the AIB, “should take care to periodically check on the site how many downloads of their article are made and, if the number of actual downloads exceeds the estimated number, promptly inform the granting institution ’to allow the latter to determine a supplementary fee.’ This fulfillment appears to be seriously burdensome both for the user called to a periodic verification on any kind of publication of this kind, and for the administration called to monitor its proper implementation.”

“It is regrettable that for the drafting of the decree,” the AIB concludes, “the reasons of the representative associations of Italian archives, libraries and museums, as well as those representing users of the institutions, who even in recent years have repeatedly publicly expressed themselves in favor of the widest reusability of reproductions of cultural heritage, were not taken into consideration. If, however, as the Faro Convention (implemented by Law No. 133 of October 1, 2020) also recognizes, the right to cultural heritage is inherent to the right to participate in cultural life, the widest and fullest valorization of the national cultural heritage can only entail public policies supporting its widest and fullest possible use, without income and financial discrimination between users (individuals and entities, public and private). For these reasons, we trust in the minister’s willingness to introduce appropriate correctives to the decree in question and we make ourselves fully available to dialogue with the ministerial structures for all the necessary in-depth studies.”

Cultural heritage photo fees, associations appeal to minister
Cultural heritage photo fees, associations appeal to minister

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