As an artist and a person in the media, images play an important role in my professional and personal life. The idea of ownership and rights is a key element when talking about the use of images in the media. For instance, did you know that just because you may own a work of art, whether you are a private collector or a museum, you may not own the rights to that image? With the popularity of the internet and the overwhelming ease of access to information and images, one can never be too careful when it comes to the use and reproduction of images.

VAGA, an New York City organization founded in 1976 and focused on protecting the intellectual property rights of thousands of artists worldwide, plays an important role in making sure that the artists’ rights are not abused. VAGA represents both living artists and the estates of deceased artists including fine artists, fine art photographers, and well-known and emerging artists.

According to Robert Panzer, the Executive Director of VAGA, the primary role of the non-profit organization is “clearing the rights on behalf of the artists.” What that means is that anytime someone wants to reproduce or use an image of one of VAGA’s represented artists, whether that be in book format, in a magazine publication, as set dressing for films, via an online format or various other formats, permission needs to be obtained from VAGA.

“Generally speaking, copyrights don’t move with the object, copyrights stay with the creator,” Panzer said.

So what is copyright? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, copyright is “the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something as a literary, musical, or artistic work.”

VAGA represents 6,000 to 10,000 clients, with membership fees at $50 per year. Besides protecting copyright, VAGA also provides its members with many services and benefits including art licensing and reproduction rights clearance, collection of royalties, providing legal advice concerning copyright and the legal rights of the artist, lobbying for fair laws and bills that protect the rights of artists and much more.

Another aspect of VAGA’s functions is to pursue infringements and unauthorized uses of their clients’ images. Understanding copyright and intellectual rights are a slippery slope indeed, but when you throw in the internet, you have a more difficult situation to traverse.

“It’s a nightmare,” Panzer said. “It’s a nightmare because everybody’s right clicking and copying and scanning and doing all the stuff. And so for us it’s a triage.”

Panzer went on to say, “It’s the same thing that’s happen[ing] with music. It’s just everybody taking.”

But how do copyrights and intellectual property affect a publication such as ÆQAI? Recently, in February of this year, ÆQAI wrote a review about “Impressions and Improvisations: The Prints of Romare Bearden,” at the Taft Museum of Art. Wanting to include in the review the fact that the Cincinnati Art Museum had one of Bearden’s pieces in their collection, ÆQAI contacted them for permission to use the image. We were instructed to contact VAGA to obtain permission to use the image for publication.

Several things are taken into account when it comes to gaining permission to use an image. What’s the publication’s circulation? What issue will the image be used in? How big will the image be in relation to the article? And what is the article about? The size of the image and circulation of the publication determines the cost of using the image, which is projected on a sliding scale.

Permission for use is not always granted, but when it is, the proper information must be included with the image. Most images must have standard information such as the name of the work, its year of creation, the size and dimensions of the image, and the owner of the image. This information must be provided along with the image. All of this information is determined by the artist or the artist’s estate along with VAGA, via legal documentation.

“We’re fighting for your rights,” Panzer said. “What I kind of want to get across is the idea of VAGA not simply as a sort of money thing. It’s really very much about how can we best protect the economic interests and moral interests of our artists.”

So what does this mean to people in the media? Journalists and media producers have to be aware of current copyright laws, artist’s intellectual property rights and what that entails. They also have to understand the proper procedures and appropriate organizations, such as VAGA or the Artists Rights Society, to approach in order to obtain permission to use images for media coverage. For more information about VAGA and services provided to their clients, you can visit their website for more details.

VAGA website-

–Shawn Daniel

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