Placing stuff online – how much the British Library make from charging people for this

My Freedom of Information request to the British Library got a reply a couple of days ago.  I asked:

I note that the BL charges a fee to websites that use digital images of pages from manuscripts from the BL collection.

Please would you let me know, for each of the past 5 years (either calendar or financial, whichever is more convenient):

How many requests were made for use of BL collection images of these items on third party websites.

How much income was received by the BL in consideration of the use of BL collection images of these items on third party websites.

Looking into the finances of one of our public research libraries can only be interesting and illuminating!  I got back an interesting reply that didn’t quite answer the question, as regards manuscripts, and instead gave figures for all items in the collection.  I think someone read my question a bit too quickly, perhaps!!  So I’ve asked them to review it.

They sent the reply in a non-searchable PDF, unfortunately.  (Curiously they stick a copyright notice on the information – habit, I suppose). Here’s the reply.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 – REQUEST 0929

We have considered your request and provide answers to your questions in turn below.

‘How much income was received by the BL in consideration of the use of BL collection images on third party websites.’

The revenue generated by charging for rights to reproduce images of items in the British Library collections for the previous five financial years (April to March) was as follows:

£                               2004/5     2005/6       2006/7         2007/8          2008/9
Total revenue    296,889      273,528     274,496        278,287         352,748

The number of requests for rights to reproduce images for which a charge was made was as follows:

  2004/5 2005/6 2006/7 2007/8 2008/9
Requests 1952 2090 2270 2770 1728

In certain cases, we waive the charge for rights for reproduction of images. Our records do no enable us to produce precise figures for this period but the approximate number of these is in the region of 800 per year.

This is very helpful, and quite interesting, all by itself.  Only a handful of requests each year, to one of the world’s richest libraries?  That feels wrong.  But who is doing the paying?  The sum is not really that high, for a major government institution, and probably can be broken down further.  We need more info, that’s for sure.

I will keep you updated!

3 thoughts on “Placing stuff online – how much the British Library make from charging people for this

  1. It’s quite possible that a lot of the requests are for professional for-profit websites — magazines and newspapers — or for UK government websites. That’s the only place I can remember seeing British Library credits.

  2. Maureen, I think you’re right. I suspect that this is exactly the case — that ordinary people are priced out. If so, there is a policy issue. No-one objects to them making money this way; but there should be a way to allow the public to use their own material! But until we know what they are selling, and who to, it’s impossible to say.

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