You're a book artist who wants to work with both text and images, but you're not a writer, or you don't draw well, or you've got mad Photoshop skillz when it comes to morphing but not starting from scratch. Where do you find the raw material for your fusion of text and image? Part I of this topic outlined some of the problems of copyright that need to be considered when you're designing your work. But the good news is that all is not lost. There are actually plenty of sources for free or inexpensive "parts." And I do mean "parts." Most of us, I would guess, don't want an entire 60,000 word book to work with. We're mostly looking for bits and pieces, and those bits and pieces may fall under fair use, too. But just to be certain, check. It's worth the trouble just to stay out of court. Contrary to Grace Hopper's famous dictum, in this case it's easier (and cheaper) to ask permission first than apologize (or pay a fine) later.
Paying For It: This was the big problem in Part I: where to find text you like that you can use for free, or for at best, a minimal cost. First of all, if you've got text you'd like to use and you're not sure whether it's copyrighted or not, go search for it on Copyright.com. There are a couple of different kinds of use covered under copyright, and you may find that using the text you want is cheaper than you thought it would be. Copyright.com's Copyright Central page has a number of information links you should check out anyway, including blogs and websites on the issue (and believe me, it's an issue). But it will also help you find out just what it would cost you to use a particular text, if it's copyrighted, by walking you through just how you plan to use it. Cost varies by use, so don't be completely disheartened if your text is still under copyright. It may cost you only a nominal fee to use it. Whatever you do, don't decide to just use it anyway, without checking, and certainly not without paying. Fines for copyright infringement are not cheap—certainly not as cheap as sucking it up and paying for the privilege of use.
Getting It For Free: Yes, this is possible to do legally, and sometimes even if a text is copyrighted, you can get it for free for use in a work of art. That's up to the copyright owner. But there are places like Project Gutenberg, which has 20,000 texts available for whatever use you want, and you don't pay a nickle for them. There's poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, genre and literary texts, in English and a number of other languages. There are Project Gutenberg affiliates in several countries, too. If you're feeling particularly grateful, donate a couple of bucks; they're a goldmine and digitize texts on a largely volunteer basis.
Other sources for free texts include (and as always, make sure the texts really are in the public domain before you use them; I or they may be mistaken):
- The Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts: Free free free. No restrictions.
- University of Virginia's Etext center: In the process of being migrated and some collections are restricted to the university community because of licensing, but still a good source.
- The Online Books Page: hosted by University of Pennsylvania. Over 30,000 texts. Some are copyrighted, many are not. Buyer beware.
- Google is starting to post copyright-free texts, currently limited to "classics."
- CMU Index of Canonical Poetry: Mostly copyright-free.
A note about Bartleby.com. This is a great resource for quotes and poetry, but it is for personal use only. I'd suggest using it more as a search engine than as a source for texts.
Someone on the LJ list remarked that you shouldn't have to go back to the 19th century to find copyright-free work. Well, you don't. The other place you can get texts for free (sorta) is the authors themselves. Know someone who writes, or whose work you admire? Talk to them about a collaboration. Even famous authors are often tickled to be approached for unique projects like this and you can write to them via their publishers. If you like poetry and you're looking for a particular theme, put an ad in Poets & Writers' classified, Funds for Writers, or one of a bazillion other writer's newsletters and watch your mailbox flood with manuscripts. Befriend a starving poet (they're all starving and they're mostly harmless; just don't date them) and they'll be delighted to feed you chapbook material. I say this with confidence because I'm a poet and writer myself and I work with a number of them. They're easy, really, when it comes to their writing. And charmingly grateful for attention. You'll own the first publication rights (or whatever rights you negotiate with the author; and do that, in writing) and that will protect your work from piracy too.
And here's another sort of last-ditch source I hadn't thought of myself, though it seems so obvious in retrospect: Collect your own words and phrases like Francesca over at Mrs. Eliot Books. Because they're only bits and pieces, they probably fall under the fair-use clause of copyright. It's a bit like sampling. Just don't use chunks that are too big.
For me, this is far more difficult than finding text, but that's probably because I'm a writer and a former English major, too. Is stuff like this covered in Art School? You tell me. (Seriously, I'm curious.) I had to find these sources the hard way, or I picked them up from artist friends, or while I was working at the Niels Bohr Library and Archive, which is the largest depository of physics history pictures in the world <sarcasm>(what a distinction!)</sarcasm>, where we would occasionally sell images to stock agencies.
Paying For It (a lot): Depending on whether you're looking for photographs or art images, there are a number of different places that supply stock photos of both. The problem with stock photos, as you probably already know, is that they're so darn expensive. The best known major stock photo agencies are probably Getty and Corbis, which charge an arm and a leg and/or your firstborn for their images. Comstock, The Image Bank and FPG (now part of Getty Images), Superstock, and others provide a lot of images for advertising and corporations, but are usually out of my price bracket.
Paying For It (a little): Art images are somewhat less expensive, usually because they're owned by non-profit museums. Art Cyclopedia allows you to search for artists, movements, medium, subject, nationality, and a special search category of women artists. It will tell you where the artwork is held and has links to those museums where you can request the rights. Insight Visual Collection does something similar and has links to 300,000 images from 50 collections world-wide. Like Art Cyclopedia, it provides links to the institutions where you can inquire about copyright fees.
Check out Yahoo's Flickr and Google's Picasa for some really amazing photos, too. They're both searchable, have a number of different groups devoted to specific subjects and many of the photos are under Creative Commons licenses, which allow you to use them with proper credit, for free or a nominal fee. I have an account on Flickr, and a couple of different groups have asked to use my photos. Since I'm not a professional photographer, I'm happy to just have them appear with a byline, although if the demand increases, that will probably change.
And speaking of Google, you can always use Google Images to find one you like, then contact the person whose site it appears on to ask for permission to use it. I've done this for authors I've worked with and generally people are pretty amenable to the idea, and if they charge you a fee at all, it'll be a small one. You'll probably need a higher resolution than appears on the screen anyway. But DON'T FORGET TO ASK. Just downloading it off the web and reproducing it for profit is stealing.
Getting It For Free: Libraries, baby, libraries. They're not just for books and magazines. Most libraries have some kind of image collection, usually regional in scope and focus. The big depository libraries, like the New York Public Library Research Branch (NYPL) and the Library of Congress (LOC), as well as university libraries, often have extensive collections which can be used for free or for very nominal fees (like, $10.) The NYPL has an amazing digital collection, and their licensing is reasonable for most artistic projects, depending on the collection. NYPL also has a digital collection of texts, both as individual, visual pages and as information files. And the LOC has actually now joined Flickr and is sharing about 3,100 royalty-free images from its Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information and the George Grantham Bain News Service collections (thanks to Core77 Design Blog for that heads-up). But the LOC has dozens of other collections too, many of which are also royalty free because the copyright holder is unknown or long-deceased.
Interestingly, here's what happened during the first two days of the LOC's Flickr upload, according to Book Patrol:
• All 3,100+ photos have been viewed
• 420 of the photos have comments
• 1,200 of the photos have been favorited
• 392,000 views on the photostream
• 650,000 views of photos
• About 1.1 million total views on [the LOC's] account
And speaking of blogs, I can't not mention Bibliodyssey, which showcases image collections from libraries around the world. Peacay is always careful to give the originating information and whether the images are high resolution or not. Again, most of this is cheap or free for artistic purposes. So if you're looking for some truly unusual stuff, browse the Bibliodyssey archives. Note: this is not to imply that Peacay has done all your work for you and you need merely cite the source. Nope. He's only given you the contact information which you must get off your butt and use to ask for permission yourself.
The best way to make sure your images are free is, of course, to take or create them yourself. Get a digital camera, learn how to use it, subscribe to a few photo how-to newsletters or take a class. It's another tool or technique, like Photoshop or Illustrator, or printmaking, or whatever that you should learn to use if you're serious about your art. Even your bad photos can be turned into something useful with the magic of Photoshop.
The truth is, you're not going to get everything you want for free, unless you pirate it. In the long run, this ruins your credibility and makes your work hard to sell, so it's not really worth it. Good art materials aren't cheap. If you wouldn't skimp on those, why would you skimp on something like text or images that are an integral part of your work?