Who Really Owns Your Work…ONCE YOU’RE DEAD?

Let’s not pussy-foot around here, in this hypothetical situation… YOU’RE DEAD. And being the generous gifted photographer that you were, you not only sold work but also gave images to local art institutions and museums. But now that you’re dead, who owns the work…I mean the rights to reproduce and control the release of the works, hmmm? My experience is that most institutions get very possessive of your works once they have them, even to the point of asserting rights to their use. Some art institutions (I won’t mention any names here) have the artist sign his/her life away and all usage and control of the artworks for the “honor” of being included in their collection. I got to thinking on this topic when, on a recent trip to the Clark Museum in Massachusettes, I wanted to photograph my daughter drawing a picture of Monet for fun and for something for her to remember this trip by. When I asked if it was ok (no flash, no tripod, just a picture) I was informed that photographs were NOT ALLOWED. Excuse me- but Monet is the only one who OWNS copyright to his works and he is long since dead and thus this is not an issue. It was ok of course to draw the picture but any photography within the exhibit was strictly forbidden. How nice though, that for a mere $65 dollars the gift shop has a complete book of the show (we bought it, of course). I could understand if the purposes of the image in question were for commercial uses but that aside the museum does not own the copyright to these works- the owners of the artworks themselves do not own the copyright to these works, Monet does and he is-we can all agree- dead. So all of this amounts to a whoring of dead artists works in a greedy attempt to not only get your admission dollars but also drive you to the gift dept for that must-have book. Of course the museum owns the building and the galleries so their word is final…BUT it is, IMHO, wrong.

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