One legend goes… that if you have paid admission to a museum, then you are allowed to photograph what’s inside, and license those photos
False. Don´t take out the DLSR so fast!
Fact. A museum or gallery that charges admission is a private space. When you enter that space, you do so under the conditions or “rights of access” that they establish. Those conditions might be things like: Don’t touch the artwork, don’t take the artwork, or don’t take photos of the artwork. So, when you pay to enter a museum, you must check the conditions that are established in that place. Is there a “No Photography” sign posted or is it mentioned within the conditions on the back of the ticket or on the website? If there is, and you ignore it, then you have breached your contract of access with that museum. Even if there is a security guard smiling and nodding at you as you take the photos.
Paying to visit a museum doesn’t give you unlimited rights of access (such as taking photos). By choosing to buy a ticket and enter their space, you are accepting their restrictions of your rights of access. A careful photographer will know what his or her rights of access are
Another legend goes… if you took photos in the museum without violating the museum’s restrictions of access (see urban legend # 1 for more info); than you can distribute those photos through a Royalty Free collection (such as Pixtal or easyfotostock).
Fact. Even if you are allowed to take a photo of the artwork, that doesn’t mean that you can license that photo for any use. If the artwork is not in the public domain*, your photos can be used to promote/discuss the artwork itself, but can not be used to promote potato chips. Here we could really complicate things by talking about the application of editorial use, moral rights, whether the creator is dead or alive, and other such issues, but we’ll keep it simple at this point.
Royalty Free images can be used by clients for whatever purpose and for as long as they wish. Therefore, photos taken of artwork inside museums (and outside as well) should never be submitted for an RF license. They should be submitted to RM only and clearly marked “for editorial use.”
As a photographer, when considering what legal precautions to take, you should always overprotect yourself because the receiving end of a lawsuit is a lonely place to be.
*In many countries, a work of art falls into public domain when its creator has been dead for more than 70 years. In this case the work becomes available for wide use by the public. Works of art that aren’t in the public domain are protected by copyright, and must be photographed and offered with caution.
[Please note that this text is intended to provide you with some general guidelines about photography in museums and should not be taken as legal counsel.]