How do authors get permission to use professional photo/art images in writing books?

Re using historical photos of people, buildings, and important figures. Is it typically expensive? Are some free like museum photos? Do you still have to pay to use older photos like Matthew Brady’s Civil War photos for example or are these public domain now?

Some public libraries have historical collections. For instance the Denver Public Library’s Western History dept. has a vast collection of photos, not just from Colorado, and you can buy prints (cost depends on size of print) and get permission to use others by asking them. There is a charge for using them and, while I don’t have the figures, it’s not prohibitively expensive.

Other images are doubtless in the public domain.

In the case of (for instance) someone’s collection of Civil War photos, you are basically paying the respository of those photos for having kept and continuing to keep them. Professional photos and art of more recent vintage are obviously subject to copyright laws. Some copyright holders will grant permission without asking for anything but a byline, others want $$$. (In the only instance I personally know about, King Features wanted $300 to allow an author to reproduce a Doonsbury cartoon in a textbook.)

Hugely expensive, depending what your subject matter is and what stock-photo house you use. Very few pulishers pay for photo-publication rights, which leaves that as my major expense (at least $3,000/book, minimum). I have a group of stock houses and universities I work with who are well-stocked and not extortionists.

Oops, you know Eve is right. When I said the cost was not prohibitive I was thinking of ONE photo. Obviously, if you use a bunch, it can add up pretty fast.


For scholarly porpoises( :smiley: ), one is given certain longitude, in using copperwhited materiels. :eek:

It depends upon the picture. In some cases all I had to do was to write and request permission. If they know you’re doing it for a scholarly work, they’ll usually let you use it free. A lot of places charge a nominal fee. Museums will at least charge you for copies of the photos. I was surprised that I could get permission to reprint a Gary Larsen cartoon for only about $100. On the other hand, the movie studios were so ludicrous that I avoided using any stills from movies (although I dearly wanted to use a shot from Clash of the Titans). This probably explains Eve’s statement about expense.

All of this adds up, even at only $100 a pop. It also takes time. I spent a year getting photos and permissions (for quotes, as well as for pictures) after we finished the manuscript on my book.
On the other hand, for the column I currently write, the magazine staff did all the legwork of getting the photos and permissions, once I told them where it was, and they did it in months. That was a heck of a lot more relaxing than doing it myself.

I believe you can download some high resolution (or reasonably high resolution) public domain photos at a government site. (Too lazy to look up the URL, but I believe it’s related to the Library of Congress.) I believe that I saw some Matthew Brady photos in there. The collection is huge. Lots of old pictures of unknown people, and also people you might have heard of. (I liked the portrait they had of singer Jenny Lind.) I used some of these photos for a book I worked on. It was free for my use, being in the public domain, and all, and was at a high enough resolution to print well.

NARA’s ARC catalog?

No, but that looks cool too!

I bestirred myself to look it up: it’s

You have to hunt around for the photos.