Copyrighting Heritage

I enjoyed David Miles’ article on Stonehenge in this month’s Minerva magazine. I remember visiting Stonehenge in the autumn of 1978. I was almost the only person there. I don’t remember any fences. I walked right up to it. I touched the stones. I took pictures of it. I have never been since, though I have glimpsed it from the A303. Noticing that all the photographs in the Minerva article were copyrighted to English Heritage, I thought I had better look again at EH’s statement about copyright, since it has been in the news lately. If I were to dig out one of my old 1978 photographs and then print it in a forthcoming Blue Guide, would I have committed a felony?

This is what they say, on their website:

Well, it’s generous of them not to have a problem with photographers sharing images on not-for-profit websites. Not that Flickr is quite the sharing experience it used to be, since now you have to sign up before you can see anything. But woe betide anyone who enters English Heritage land ‘with the intention of taking a photograph for financial gain…’ Filthy financial gain! Could any photographer have such dastardly intent? But what if I took a photograph of Stonehenge, not with loathsome lucre on my mind but with the intention of illustrating a Blue Guide? Would I still have to pay to use my photo, even though no one is paying me to reproduce it and the book is a costly-to-produce printed guide aimed at encouraging people to visit the site?

I don’t think the demonising of ‘profit’ is helpful. Without it, there is no culture or civilisation. Even not-for-profit organisations are reliant on profit. The funding they get comes from profit that someone else has made somewhere else on something else at some other time. For now, I’ll avoid reproducing images of English Heritage sites, because I don’t want any hassle. But I do want to help photographers to make a living. Yes, financial gain. For talented, creative people. Sharing stuff around the campfire is fine, but it doesn’t lead very far. And anyway, how can you fairly and squarely copyright HERITAGE?

Stonehenge at the solstice. For copyright reasons, this image cannot be displayed.

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