Saturday, 10 March 2018

Museum Pimping* FLO Sophie-Pics? [Updated]

Nieszczęsna kobitka
It seems that in Bonkers Britain, the Museum where you work can sign an agreement where you give them full and exclusive rights to your face to exploit to make money from. Here is my letter to the Museums official to whom I assume Essex FLO Sophie Flynn went in order to 'escalate' (as she threatened) her dispute with two bloggers who had discussed the smile she apparently reserves for the Museum and metal detectorists. She seems not to notice the awkwardness of colluding in her employer's financial exploitation of her own image (the very image she wanted to protect).* This will all change with new EU regulations to be introduced on May 25th, but they will not apply long in the UK, after they are ejected from the EU:
From: Paul Barford [...] Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2018 10:59 AM To: 'Museums'; 'Sof[...]' Cc: 'nigelsw[...]'; 'Im[...]m'; 'mlewis[...]' Subject: Re: Selling Sophie

Dear Dr Besant,
Thank you for your helpful letter about your institution’s ownership of the rights to the image of an unnamed photographer depicting a recent Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) activity. There seems to be confusion here, with both the PAS and Ms Flynn herself (in letters to the Heritage Journal and myself of 5th March 2018), appearing to claim these rights.

Several points:

1) I would like to make you aware that (after I edited it) I linked the image that appeared on my blog to the source, that is the fair use - in edited form - by Heritage Journal (HJ), which is the text I comment upon in my blog. That image was later removed by HJ at Ms Flynn’s insistence about 9:20 in the morning on 5th March.

It turned out that the Google Image that Heritage Journal had used came from the exclamation-mark-dotted webpage publicising a PAS event (ie, I would like to point out that it bore, when I accessed it, absolutely no ‘Museums’ copyright imprint, and no photographer is credited, which rather hinders anyone passing that information on to me as a secondary user of the edited image.

Indeed HJ had deliberately not revealed the identity of the member of PAS staff concerned - whose face they blanked out, to save her embarrassment. I only became aware that it showed Ms Flynn much later.

This is no stolen bikini-shot of Ms Flynn on holiday, it is a photo of a person employed in a public-funded Scheme, engaged doing her public-funded work and interacting with artefacts taken from the stakeholder-public’s common archaeological heritage by artefact collectors. My text, like that of HJ, engages in public with that fact and I hope you will agree with me that the public (your public too) has the fullest right to know just what is being done with their money and their heritage. Here, it seems to me that Colchester and Ipswich Museums are attempting to operate as a heritage gatekeeper by claiming monopoly of the official imagery generated by these activities and by the imposition of financial penalties, controlling who shows them and under what circumstances.

You should be aware that your 200 quid is more than half the net monthly pension of a substantial number of people where I am based, and I think you can see that as an archaeologist who runs this blog from my own pocket as a public service, that seems to me from that perspective a pretty obscene demand for your Museums to make on a foreign writer for a fair use application of material in the public domain in critical comment of the policies it represents.

My ‘Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues blog’ (PACHI) is based in Warsaw, the centre of Europe. It is a one-man non-commercial private social media production with global scope and reach, commenting on current policies on the handling of portable antiquities, including by museums such as your own. Generally, heritage institutions, recognizing the need for debate in the heritage sector, have been helpful rather than obstructive. The Bloomsbury-based PAS and its scattered staff are all too often one of the exceptions.

Although I’ve been running that blog since 2008 (10073 posts, most with pictures), this is actually the first time the issuing of an invoice has been proposed for my use of material in discussions of portable antiquities collecting and heritage issues there.

I would see this in a wider context. As it happens, with my professional hat on, for the past few days, I have also been chasing up renewal of publication permissions for illustrations of a book I wrote some time ago which is being republished in a new format by Cornell University Press. I guess I can consider myself lucky there that without exception, other museums and archaeological institutions are by no means as parsimonious as your Museums over this issue and agreeing to assign the author and publisher reproduction rights without a fee. That’s right across continental Europe, from the Netherlands to Moscow. What have they got that your Museums lack?

2). You demand 200 quid from a foreign writer for (I presume non-exclusive) use of this image. But I am not interested in the whole of the FLO, only the smile. The posts that we are discussing refer to PAS staff smiling at artefact collectors as they handle the results of the depletion of the archaeological record. So, a photo of a real authentic FLO smile as she sits and gives the thumbs-up at a table where ‘finders’ bring stuff in is obviously totally relevant and 'fair use' in comment and critique.

In that light, please tell me, how much is just the bit with the smile? I was thinking of a bit that on measurement transpires to be one-seventieth of the current image. So, I propose £2.85 for Sophie’s smile. Is that OK? Since bank transfers are difficult from Poland, do you accept Paypal?

3). If you are so concerned about image use on a foreign blog, please check PACHI for other images of yours that may be used there but about which you have not been informed, as I assume, by the assiduous Ms Flynn. There might be one, for example, accompanying the write-up I did of the theft of the horn of Ipswich’s Rosie the Rhino and there may be others. Please check. [PS the tracking software indicates that she did not - the photo of Rosie is the BBC's, phew, eh?]

4). Since it touches on another theme that figures in my blog (and additionally is a concern raised by numismatists), I would like to publish on my blog the first email you sent me [it is from a ‘gov’ account], may I? I think it raises a very interesting question about museum image charges that I have touched on before on the blog, but your email gives a concrete example that I want to discuss in the context of the type of waivers landowner are asked to sign when donating metal detected finds to museums. [PS, she did not, but I will manage without quoting her directly]

5). In attempting to block full depiction of an issue on both HJ and PACHI by claiming unfair use of images, Ms Flynn finds herself in insalubrious company. UK ‘metal detectorists’ are always trying it on (some episodes are chronicled in my blog). It is disturbing that the mores of this ‘partner’ community should be rubbing off on heritage professionals.

I personally know the guys behind HJ, and nicer people it would be difficult to meet, and they are really passionate about preserving the heritage. Ms Flynn (a ‘liaison’ officer no less) chose however to adopt an aggressive first approach to them, and myself, and then threatened to ‘escalate’ the issue (it seems you, Dr Besant, are the intended instrument of that escalation).

I am 100% certain that had Ms Flynn simply asked HJ nicely to change that photo for another FLO (because, for example, on the day it was taken she was having a ’bad hair day’), that would have been the end of it. I am sure she’d have got an apology [see the email from Nigel Swift to her: Mon, 5 Mar 2018 9:47] , but now I think it is she who needs to apologise. Instead, she started a vendetta of ranting on Twitter (in work time?) and has the audacity there to intimate a lack of ‘respect’ on our part and in addition, she accuses us of ‘theft’ (!) As a result, we are all wasting working time discussing a single picture of a girl in a blue PAS blouse making a thumbs-up sign, when I am sure we all have better things to do.

My feeling is that the approach of Ms Flynn to colleagues was neither respectful, nor appropriate in the circumstances. It badly reflects on the traditions of integration and partnership of the Museum where she works. My own connections to COLEM go back a very long way and have always met there friendly and knowledgeable people, and after all those years, to be treated in such a way by a member of Museum staff, and one that is specifically paid to ‘liaise’, saddens me.

If that is not yourself, Dr Besant, please apprise her line manager of this correspondence.

I look forward to receiving your reply

Paul Barford

PS I am informed that the Museum’s Ms Flynn is becoming quite an Internet celebrity, and that now Rescue is also carrying this image and trust that in the spirit of fairness, you will also be demanding 200 quid from them in like manner.
This letter did not get a reply, and five days later I am still waiting for the permission to use the one-seventieth of an image of the lady's smile. Obviously, there is a huge issue here, the whole advantage of social media is the speed with which it reacts to events as they unfold, the attraction is the topicality. If however one has to wait nearly a week or more to actually get the rights to material needed to support an argument, unless we are to see a proliferation of unsupported arguments (oh, yes, like the supporters of collectors and collecting do indeed use)  we need to see gatekeeper institutions like provincial museums really speed up their response time. My second letter to the same people:

Dear Dr Besant, Ms Flynn, 1). With reference to our recent correspondence, I would like to inform you that RESCUE the trust for British Archaeology is still displaying the ‘part of Sophie’ picture on their Facebook page! I trust that you will also be chasing them up about it and demanding CBC’s 200 quid from them too and ‘enforcing payment’ as you threatened me. There is ostensibly another 200 quid due from Wyatt Vanman for the same ‘theft’ (sic) of CBC’s property: in the comment under the Rescue post, there is currently part-of the ‘part-of-Sophie’ picture displayed. Maybe he could pay less for use of only a part image?
 Wyatt sometimes comments on my blog, but I am afraid I do not have an address for him, but Rescue is easy enough to trace.
 Probably there are several more of these ‘part of Sophie’ images on Facebook. There are a number of metal detecting Facebook pages out there where collaboration with PAS and its FLOs are discussed in lively and often picturesque terms, I trust that you will be hunting down any unauthorised use of such images and seeking to threaten and punish artefact hunter ‘offenders’ in the same manner...
 By the way, the fact that I suspect the Museums, still less the PAS,  though you accuse us, will not do take such action in the case of metal detectorists heritage-grabbers is precisely the point that this post was making on both blogs. Please feel free to prove us wrong by threatening to drag some UK metal detectorist ‘partners’ through the courts for showing a ‘part of Sophie’ image too.
 Please let me know what action you intend to take, and I will write about it on my blog so everybody knows not to use CBC images again in any discussion. Thanks.
 2). I would be grateful to receive a reply to my last email to Dr Besant, I will be going abroad soon and am keen to sort out this matter with CBC and the Museums before I go.
Paul Barford  
More silence from the Museums ensued. In Poland, institutions like this are legally obliged to answer with a decision within 14 days. I suspect that in Bonkers Britain we might have to wait longer.

UPDATE 11.03.18

* Ms Flynn, with regard to your police complaint on Saturday, if you do not have one at home, the Museum library has, I know, one of those useful books called 'dictionary', where you can look up words you are not familiar with. If you use one (highly recommended), you will find that the regular transitive verb 'to pimp' has a number of meanings. When it has an object it means 'to exploit'. The Museum exploits your image, it is pimping your image. It is profiting from selling pictures of you, and you agree to this. The verb has another meaning: 'to Pimp'  + obj. (coll.) can also mean 'improving', in this case, young lady, you are by no means improving your professional image, or that of the institutions for which you currently work by your behaviour.  I too went to UCL and somehow must have missed the classes there where you were apparently taught such a principle of academic exchange as 'if lost for words, call the police' . Thank God and my dictionary. 

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