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Permissions, A Survival Guide

Blunt Talk about Art as Intellectual Property

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it’s a good bet that at least half of those words relate to the picture’s copyright status. Art historians, artists, and anyone who wants to use the images of others will find themselves awash in byzantine legal terms, constantly evolving copyright law, varying interpretations by museums and estates, and despair over the complexity of the whole situation. Here, on a white—not a high—horse, Susan Bielstein offers her decades of experience as an editor working with illustrated books. In doing so, she unsnarls the threads of permissions that have ensnared scholars, critics, and artists for years.

Organized as a series of “takes” that range from short sidebars to extended discussions, Permissions, A Survival Guide explores intellectual property law as it pertains to visual imagery. How can you determine whether an artwork is copyrighted? How do you procure a high-quality reproduction of an image? What does “fair use” really mean? Is it ever legitimate to use the work of an artist without permission? Bielstein discusses the many uncertainties that plague writers who work with images in this highly visual age, and she does so based on her years navigating precisely these issues. As an editor who has hired a photographer to shoot an incredibly obscure work in the Italian mountains (a plan that backfired hilariously), who has tried to reason with artists’ estates in languages she doesn’t speak, and who has spent her time in the archival trenches, she offers a snappy and humane guide to this difficult terrain.

Filled with anecdotes, asides, and real courage, Permissions, A Survival Guide is a unique handbook that anyone working in the visual arts will find invaluable, if not indispensable.

Read an excerpt.

188 pages | 35 halftones, 1 line drawing, 1 table | 5 1/2 x 8 | © 2006

Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing

Art: Art--General Studies

Law and Legal Studies: General Legal Studies

Library Science and Publishing: Publishing

Reference and Bibliography


"Susan Bielstein draws on her decades of experience as an editor of illustrated books in Permissions, A Survival Guide, which helps readers navigate intellectual property law. From the start, Bielstein acknowledges that intellectual property is like a handful of sand: ’always shifting and adapting to social, cultural, and economic change. . . . May my prose lull you into dreams of a sweeter, less turbulent time to come.’ She gives life to what could be the driest subject ever with chapters such as ’Permissions: A Love Story,’ ’Privacy Woes and the Duchess of York,’ and ’Doing and Saying Whatever It Takes.’ And besides enjoying the tongue-in-cheek prose, readers will learn how to determine if an artwork is copyrighted, how to get a high-quality reproduction, and what ’fair use’ is."

Museum News

“Anyone who has labored over permissions on a publishing project will appreciate the author’s effort in writing this book, and its subsequent contribution. . . . Bielstein brings years of experience to bear on the subject of permissions, and puts forward an informative, abridged guide to the murky waters of copyright.”

Brian S. Hughes | Teachers College Record

Permissions is an urbane guide to the legal absurdities and financial exigencies which threaten to make art publishing a doomed enterprise. . . . Susan M. Bielstein escorts readers behind the plush ropes and through the doors marked ‘Museum personnel only,’ to the curatorial corridors where the real decisions concerning access to works of art are made. . . . An account of the fate of the work of art in the age of mechanical production, Permissions is hard-headed, clear-sighted, and persuasively argued.”

D. D. Guttenplan | Times Literary Supplement

“This handbook is targeted at anyone working in the visual arts. . . Drawing on years spent exploring these questions, Bielstein discusses the many uncertainties that plague writers who work with images.”

Sharon Givoni | Australian Intellectual Property Law Bulletin

“Bielstein is right on target: copyright is complex and often counterproductive and permissions are confusing, annoying, and sometimes exorbitantly expensive. . . . Permissions combines theoretical discussions and anecdotal experience with precise practical advice for those who wish to include visual images in their works without ending up threatened, harassed, sued, or destitute. . . . A wonderfully iconoclastic, informative, useful, and inspiring work.”

Robert Hauptman | Journal of Information Ethics

"This highly entertaining survey of thorny issues in the world of image publication rights is a real ’page turner’. . . . Bielstein offers a highly reasoned and articulate overview of the basics of copyright history, fair use, public domain, and other legalities. Bielstein’s lively narrative is peppered with humorous, and at times, irreverent, anecdotes, culled from her many years’ experience working in the permissions trenches."

Tom McNulty | ARLIS

"[Bielstein]  provides a straightforward, easily understood primer on copyright law as it applies to publishing in the visual arts."

Gretchen Wagner | Visual Resources

“Susan Bielstein’s Permissions: A Survival Guide humorously and intelligently outlines the criticial issues facing art book publishing now. . . . this book deftly interweaves explanations of intellectual property issues with real-life experiences in academic publishing. . . . I recommend this book to anyone working with visual material. The Guide offers much-needed valuable insight on a critical but convoluted and vexed subject.”

Christine Kuan | CAA Reviews

"A very comprehensive book that is entirely true to its stated purpose. I would highly recommend it to anyone considering compiling and publishing a book or article that will rely heavily on artwork, images or even maps. . . . The book is informative without being boring, and the complicated subject matter is presented in a light and understandable fashion. Permissions is aimed at the layperson and not at the legal profession."

Mary L. Johnson | Cartographic Perspectives

"[Bielstein] gives voice to the soul of what we are all about. She provides much food for thought on the way to dealing with the dilemma of intellectual property in our time. This is a book that should be in every publishing professional’s library."

Eugene G. Schwartz | ForeWord

Table of Contents

1. Permissions, A Love Story
2. An Admission
3. Bleeding Dollars and Euros and Pounds and Yen
4. What Is Copyright?
5. The Copy Trade and the Public Domain
6. The Forbidden Image: Museums and an Empire of Signs
Sidebar: Artists’ Moral Rights
Sidebar: Copyrighting Architecture
7. Those Toes: Privacy Woes and the Duchess of York
Sidebar: Events and Performances
8. Monks in Faraway Places, or Latin Lives!
9. Fair Use
10. Doing and Saying Whatever It Takes in the Name of Scholarship
11. A Society of Ownership: See America
12. A Supplicant’s Manifesto
13. What Did It Cost? A Summary of Fees for This Book
Sample Copyright Permission Letter
Sample Use Permission Letter
Sample Permissions Log and Summary
Sources: Image Banks and Artists Rights Organizations
Further Reading

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