Publishing a book: Finding artwork and permission to publish

By August 7, 2017

I’m working my way through the production process for my first book, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, and I thought it would be helpful to review some of the practical aspects of getting the book together. In this post, I address selecting artwork and acquiring permission to publish from the various repositories.

First is the issue of copyright

(note that I am not an attorney, and this post is not legal advice). The short answer is that for items created before 1978, one can assume a copyright length of “95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.” That means that for a book published in 2018, artwork or photos created or published before 1924 have no copyright, and consequently no permission is technically necessary. Moreover, courts continue to rule that digital copies of public domain items are not copyrightable. Nevertheless, my sense is that it is a professional courtesy to ask permission to use archival materials, even when they have been digitized and made publicly available.

I am using materials from several locations:

Library of Congress
The LoC’s photography collection is excellent and has a useful search aid. In my case, I found several collections from LOOK magazine, which donated its archives to the LoC. In the description of the collections were two items that were interesting to me. I then found a used copy of the magazine which published them. I used the “ask a librarian” feature of the website to ask if they could give me the reproduction numbers of the items I wanted. They responded in three days, and then I used Duplication Services to order the digitization of the images. The LoC is not cheap: $40 per image, plus $18 processing fee for the first ten images and a $5 digital delivery fee. However, the staff was extremely responsive and I received my copies in two and a half weeks. The collection had a note indicating that the rights of the collection were not determined, but gave a contact for the original photographer’s heir. I emailed him and he kindly approved my use of the images. The quality difference between the published images and the LoC’s digitization is extraordinary, and well worth the effort.

From the Magazine (ca. 1951)

From the LoC

L. Tom Perry Special Collections, BYU
I think that the folks at the LTPSC were the single most responsive and helpful group I worked with. They helped me find things, and were extremely fast. Also the fees were very reasonable: $4 digitization fee, and $5 use fee. There was a hard copy form that needed to be filled out, but as I was off site, we did it over the phone, and they scanned and sent it to me. I used items from the existing Digital Collections, as well as material that they digitized for me. Highly recommended. The entire process took a couple of days.

Utah State Historical Society
The USHS has an excellent digital collection, including many photographs. After finding an image that I wanted, I called and the helpful archavist walked me through the process of finding, downloading, and filling out the necessary paperwork. Even though the item I wanted was already digitized, I still had to pay the $10 digitization fee, and a $10 use fee. However, they got the high res image to me in less than 24 hours. Excellent service.

Private Collections
I am using two items from private collections. I found them while searching online, and through some digital sleuthing found the current owners. After a few email exchanges, I was able to secure permission for use. This probably took the most work, but I’m extremely excited to include these in the book.

Intellectual Reserve Corporation
The LDS Church assigns all of its intellectual property rights to IRC, including all the IP and copyright from the Church History Library (which has made available tens of thousands of digital images) and the Family History Library. What’s more, IRC is sort of a gated castle guarded by bureaucrats that have no mandate or incentive to be helpful. All IP requests to the church, regardless of type, are handled through the same portal. One signs in with an LDS ID (not sure how non-members manage), and fills out the requisite forms and then submits them. IRC states that they will respond after 45 business days. I hadn’t heard anything after that period, so I emailed, and got a short response approving my usage of about half the things I was asking for, and no opportunity to discuss the situation. What was bothersome is that the copyright was clearly expired for most of the items I wanted and didn’t get. After speaking with many other researchers, it appears that IRC tries to maintain a dominant position and assert rights where none exist in order to manage distribution of materials. This coupled with the black-boxishness of the institution results in a frustrating experience. One of the images I wanted, which is available in the CHL catalogue in high res is clearly out of copyright. I sent it along with a scan from an out-of-copyright book where it was initially published, and we’ll see what the OUP editors decide to do. IRC did not charge a use fee, but requested a copy of the book when published.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Send them a copy of your book with nothing but black pages. #redacted.

    Comment by Who's Fielding Smith — August 7, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

  2. Fascinating, J., thanks. It’s especially nice to see the helpful archives and archivists recognized for their good work.

    Comment by Ardis — August 7, 2017 @ 7:55 pm

  3. Nice, J. Thanks.

    Comment by wvs — August 7, 2017 @ 8:58 pm

  4. Thanks. Ardis, there really are so many helpful people around.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 7, 2017 @ 9:19 pm

  5. Your assessment of the IRC is accurate. The Church has apparently never heard of customer service. They seem to intentionally make it almost impossible to get timiely permission to publish images that would in no way, shape, or form harm the institution. It’s all about power. “Because we can be difficult, we will be difficult.” That should be their motto.

    Comment by Wally — August 11, 2017 @ 10:09 am

  6. Thanks, J. I had a similar experience as I went about obtaining images and permissions for Surviving Wounded Knee. Some archives were very easy to work with and had reasonable prices, while others were the opposite. Because my book was not Mormon-focused, I did not have to deal with IRC, but I’ve heard the horror stories.

    I was not aware of the court case that you link to. My understanding has long been that the person or institution that created a digital copy owned the image, and therefore had the right to insist that permission be obtained and to charge a fee for use. My sense is that most researchers are not aware of the legal precedent and therefore do not put up much resistance. The other thing, which you imply in the post, is that most archives only release low-res images publicly, requiring researchers to seek permission and pay the usage fee in order to acquire hi-res versions that can be used in the published product.

    Comment by David G. — August 12, 2017 @ 2:01 pm

  7. Thank you for sharing this; I bookmarked it since I am getting to this point in my book project. While reading the post, I realized it would be best to find an alternate source for a certain image, and was glad to discover that it was available elsewhere.

    I’ll echo what was said about working with Special Collections at HBLL: responsive and helpful and highly recommended.

    Comment by Amy T — August 12, 2017 @ 2:41 pm

  8. David, I think that is correct. Many institutions are happy to act like copyrights exist because it is in their interest. I also think that some institutions are not being ethical or honest in how they assert that fallacy. Researchers are often in the dark. That being said, I am happy to have a dialogue with institutions and remunerate fairly for their services.

    Amy, I’m really looking forward to seeing your work in print!

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 12, 2017 @ 6:43 pm


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