How do authors obtain permission and hi-res images of illustrations?
May 28, 2015 11:10 AM   Subscribe

My dad and I are submitting a manuscript for a book on Old West history. We need not just to obtain permission to use 25 historical images but to obtain versions of the pictures that are high enough quality for print. Can any publishing experts or authors share tips on how best to undertake this task?

Should we just write e-mails to every permission holder and ask for images of a certain DPI? Is there some standard way this is done? How much of a role should the publisher play in this step?

It seems straightforward but it is new territory because although I've published a book before, there were no illustrations. So I am wondering if there are things we should know about what we should and shouldn't do.

The illustrations range from 19th century maps to modern paintings of Mexican War-era horse soldiers. The publisher is a good publisher, so we'd be approaching rights holders as reputable individuals.

Any help much appreciated.
posted by johngoren to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Always ask for a higher resolution image than the job requires, since the marketing department may want to use bigger images in promotional material (posters, web ads, etc.).
posted by Zedcaster at 12:01 PM on May 28, 2015

First, ask your publisher. Oh, and read your contract. Some publishers/contracts may require you to do all the legwork, and others will outsource the permissions requests to companies that handle that.

If you do have to request permission yourself, talk to your publisher and find out what format/resolution they will want.
posted by rtha at 12:13 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your publisher likely also has a standard "permission request form" or preferred language that they use, so make sure to ask them for that as well.

Right now, set up a spreadsheet document to be your "Permissions Log." This stuff is really easy to lose track of, especially with 25 sources. Make a list of each image (shorthand version is to use chapters in the book followed by images within that chapter, so, the second image in Chapter 1 would be "Figure 1.2" for instance), and have columns for image source, dates permission was requested, dates permission was granted, and how it was granted (ie, by email, snail mail, etc).
posted by Miko at 12:31 PM on May 28, 2015

Best answer: This is a complicated matter. The ease of obtaining permissions, and the cost of doing so, depends on a number of factors. Is your publisher a commercial press or a not-for-profit (such as a university press)? What is the initial print run? Do you need international rights, or will your book be distributed only in the USA (or wherever you are)? Do you need rights for a digital edition, or print only?

Does your contract provide for any funds for permissions fees, or are those your responsibilities as authors?

Are these unique images (original artwork, manuscripts, etc.), or are you reprinting previously published material? If it's the latter, and it is now out of copyright, shop around for libraries that may have the material and don't charge permissions fees. Yale University Library, for instance, does not assert copyright in reproductions of material in its collection that is in the public domain. They charge a fee for producing a photo or a scan, but not for subsequent use of it. Other libraries demand permissions fees. In some cases, they may not require a fee but will require that you send a copy of the publication; that can get expensive if you have a lot of images.

Then there are some collections that have made high-resolution images available free, with no restrictions on their use. The Getty Open Content Program is one such initiative.

Your publisher should have guidelines for image preparation and permissions; ask your editorial contact about it. My publisher's guidelines might also be useful.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:03 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers, this is really helpful. It's a university press so I am going to see what standard guidelines they have.
posted by johngoren at 1:58 PM on May 28, 2015

Best answer: I'm the rights and reproductions librarian at the archive where I work. Policies vary from repository to repository, but I can describe ours. When someone requests materials for publication, I send them a form that asks them to describe the project and the materials they want, including file size and format. I look at the requested items and determine whether we have the ability to allow publication. If they are out of copyright or we own the copyright, we approve the usage and supply the person making the request with a usage agreement, or license, specific to their usage. We have our own forms for all this, approved by our legal representation, so we don't use any licensing forms provided by a publisher. We require credit to the organization, in the form of captions etc., for all image usages. We provide the credit lines in the license. There are sometimes special conditions of use, for example, we allow online publication at 72 dpi only, so I add that in if necessary. The license is signed by the person making the request and my me, and I upload the image files to an FTP where they can download them. As far as fees, we have a formal fee schedule that takes into account the type of publication and other factors, but we almost always offer steep discounts or complete waivers in cases of financial hardship for nonprofit or educational purposes. Commercial usages rarely receive a discount. I'm probably forgetting a few things so feel free to me mail me if you have other questions. Again, this is from the perspective of an archives, not a rights clearinghouse like Getty or Bridgeman, so it will be quite different with that kind of organization. Good luck.
posted by CheeseLouise at 4:08 PM on May 28, 2015

Best answer: Keep in mind that many historical photographs are in the public domain and require no permission. Published before 1923? Public domain, generally.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:05 AM on May 29, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. The answers here helped avoid manuscript submission panic.
posted by johngoren at 1:04 PM on June 27, 2015

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