Italy taxes photographs even for researchers

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Petition to be signed !

Gennaro Sangiuliano
Minister of Culture
Photo: Ministero dei Beni Culturali (CC BY 3.0)
See the image in its page

The revolt is rumbling in the art history community in Italy, and with excellent reason. The new Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano, who came to power at the same time as Giorgia Meloni’s new government, has in fact just published a decree that not only reverses the very liberal intentions regarding photo rights of his predecessor, but also previous achievements that guaranteed, in particular, that reproductions of cultural goods belonging to the State (archives, libraries and museums) for scientific and editorial uses were completely free of charge.

Indeed, scientific journals have always been excluded from paying a fee for publishing photographs of works belonging to the State. Since 1994, the Ronchey Law (ministerial decree of 8 April 1994) has also guaranteed free access for scientific works with a print run of no more than 2,000 copies and a price under 70 euros.
Better still, a "national digitisation plan" ("Piano Nazionale di Digitalizzazione") was decided in July 2022, which granted free access to all publications, regardless of price and distribution. The aim was both to promote publishing and to facilitate the distribution of works of art.
The new Italian government is doing exactly the opposite with Ministerial Decree no. 161 of 11 April 2023, entitled: "Guidelines for the determination of the minimum amounts of fees and royalties for the concession of the use of cultural goods belonging to the State["Linee guida per la determinazione degli importi minimi dei canoni e dei corrispettivi per la concessione d’uso dei beni in consegna agli istituti e luoghi della cultura statali."].

From now on, therefore, all publications, including journals, will have to pay. Not only is all the work done last year (which had been the subject of broad consultation) wiped out, but the situation is much worse than before, with even scientific journals that did not pay being taxed, whereas the opposite movement is taking place almost everywhere. In the United States in particular, but also in France (for example, the museums of the City of Paris), more and more museums are distributing photographs of their works free of charge for any purpose whatsoever. It is also amusing to see that the Minister keeps on considering France as a model for the concepts of "cultural engineering" and "profitability of culture".

You have to read this decree to understand the degree of inculture the Italian government has fallen to, despite a minister who is also a journalist and essayist, who should have a better understanding of these issues. He explains that one of his objectives is to "facilitate the dissemination of knowledge of cultural heritage", but the result will be the opposite.
Let us summarise here the way in which the price is to be estimated - it is a veritable gas factory - which depends on the one hand on whether or not it is commercial (it being understood that any scientific publication that is not free is considered commercial) and on the other hand on the number of copies and the selling price.

The royalty is calculated firstly on the basis of the service supposed to be provided by sending the image, multiplied by a first coefficient depending on the purpose of the use of the image and then by a second coefficient linked to the print run and the price.
Since the royalty depends on the cost of reproduction, it is not clear from the decree how it will be calculated if the photograph is taken independently by the user or if it is downloaded from the website of the cultural institution in question, in which case the real cost is zero...

On the other hand, if the image is provided by the museum (or library or archive), everything is foreseen, as can be read in the annex to the decree, including media for which it is doubtful that there is much demand - microfilms (!) and slides (!). Even paper photographs must not be in great demand anymore. Let’s leave photocopies aside, and focus on scans and especially digital photos. To obtain a digital photo from a museum will now be charged for black and white photos 5 euros for low definition and 7 euros for high definition, and for colour photos 9 and 12 euros respectively. For free use (and there is more to come) of a high-resolution digital photograph, an art historian (even a student) will have to pay 12 euros. Not only are these prices insane, but it is not clear what the extra cost is (high definition, colour...).

Let us now suppose that the art historian needs 10 colour photos in high definition (he does not deny himself anything), to publish in a scientific journal with a print run of 400 copies and sold for 30 euros. There are many different scales of charges, which multiply by 2.5 between 300 and 1000 copies and less than 50 euros. In the end, the ten photographs will therefore cost 10 x 12 x 2.5 = 300 euros! Whereas it had always been free.
For a monograph selling for 60 euros and with a print run of 1,200 copies, the price of a single colour photograph supplied by a museum will be 12 x 3 = 36 euros, whereas previously it was free.
For a monograph selling for 100 euros and with a print run of 3100 copies, the price of a single colour photograph supplied by a museum will be 12 x 4.50 = 54 euros, whereas since August 2022 it has been free of charge, as provided for in the National Digitisation Plan.

Even better: if it is a downloadable ebook [1], the payment must be made by estimating the number of downloads made! And if the number of downloads exceeds the estimate, the difference must be paid immediately...
And finally: not only do you have to pay, you also need the Ministry’s authorisation to use the photograph, because the decree states that: "independently of the fee or the identified consideration, the concession for the use and reproduction of cultural goods is in all cases subject to the prior verification of the compatibility of the intended use of the reproduction with the historical-artistic character of the same cultural goods". Here the Ministry thinks it is a court of the Inquisition... The decree justifies this real prior censorship by article 20 of the Italian heritage code, which in reality concerns the occupation of cultural goods or their physical use, and not their reproduction, as the associations of historians and researchers explain in their protests.

We have tried to be as complete and clear as possible about a decree whose opponents (almost everyone except the Italian government) also deplore its complexity. Many believe that it could be contrary to the Italian Constitution in several respects, including the freedom of research guaranteed by Article 33, which states that "art and science are free as well as their teaching".
Among those who have publicly objected in recent days are in fact (we are probably forgetting some): the Federazione Consulte Universitarie di Archeologia (Federation of University Councils of Archaeology), the Consulta Universitaria Nazionale per la Storia dell’Arte (National University Council for the History of Art), the Società Italiana di Storia della Critica d’Arte (Italian Society for the History of Art Criticism), the Associazione italiana biblioteche (Italian Association of Libraries), the Società scientifiche e consulte universitarie (Scientific Society and University Council), the Associazioni dei dottorandi, assegnisti di ricerca e giovani ricercatori (Association of doctoral students, research assistants and young researchers), the Associazioni di professionisti e di istituti del patrimonio culturale (Association of professionals and institutes of cultural heritage)...

Recently, several surprising cases have made the headlines: Ravensburger, which had published a jigsaw puzzle with the Vitruvian Man, was ordered by the Italian courts to pay rights to the Galleria dell’Accademia, and Jean-Paul Gautier, who had used the one of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, was attacked by the Uffizi. However, these works have fallen into the public domain, but in Italy, the heritage code stipulates that the State has the right to the image. A rule that until now seemed to be little respected, at least outside Italy. Decidedly, if this country is often a model for art history, it could now serve as a repellent with regard to the question of photo rights.

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