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The Heritage Takeover

Heritage as a major business has only taken off over the lasts 50 years. Many people well below retiring age can remember visiting Stonehenge when you could just stop your car and walk around it, before fences and entry charges were introduced.

Many photographers will remember when you could just walk around any property owned by or for the public and take photos, no fences, photo rights, or monopolies set up to benefit some picture library owned or run by some organisation or government organisation.

So do you recall when we gave these various groups of people permission to share out our heritage and restrict both our access to it and our rights as photographers to photograph what belongs to us all.

With it broke up into a number of brands, could it be that some of these brands will be sold off or given away to commercial organisations, could we see eventually some gasoline billionaire from Russia taking over English Heritage or certain rights being sold off wholesale.

If you can't imagine this, just think about those who put their money into an English building society, owned by its members, run for the benefit of its members, now who owns each of them, and are they all now controlled from this country. Not any more.

The picture library monopolies run by the major heritage brands like The National Trust and English Heritage, have done deals with a commercial company to sell prints and the use of images.  We as a photographer are restricted from selling our images of properties we all own and are managed by English Heritage and the National Trust. You can't put your images on their picture libraries either.  However if you have a website you can sell the images for the commercial firm that sells these images and get a commission.  So its not that they have an objection to others making a profit from these photos, its just they want to maintain a commercial monopoly, which I don't see as defendable.

So how have we got to this point:-

While 30 years or so ago the numbers who were travelling and enjoying the heritage sites were low, today it has become very popular, big business with a growing number of brands. The National Trust membership for example has grown from 160,000 in the late 1960's to 3.5 million today. English Heritage, the other major brand and membership organisation was only set up in 1983, and since that other 'charities' like 'Historic Royal Palaces', 'Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Society', 'Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust ' and many others  have been established to allow you to visit and pay for the privilege to see properties we all own.

Working out who actually runs and owns what is difficult, basically most of the assets were given or acquired by the nation and conceptually belong to us all. Most are controlled by organisations that came about or have special powers by Acts of Parliament, and directly or indirectly controlled and or funded via the government, although sometimes it may be divvied out via several steps through linked organisations. Many work very closely together, it must be really convenient that English Heritage and the National Trust have built their main offices in the same road.

Removing the fog, defining who runs and where the funding flows is quite a task however. To fund heritage attractions there are many funding sources besides membership and entry fees, a listing of many of them can be found on Heritage Link, exactly how many and how independent is difficult to see, for example the Heritage Lottery Fund distributes large sums coming from the National Lottery and is run by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, who inherited government heritage funds and are funded completely by the government. Its powers and function was extended by the National Heritage Act 1997, an unusually short Act of Parliament and then along came the National Heritage Act 1980 that sets it up. A load of organisations were set up under the National Heritage Act 1983,   amongst these was the 'Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England',  section 35 allows this to form companies and more. This is still the official name of what we know as 'English Heritage'  it is funded in part by the Government and in part from revenue earned from our historic properties and other services. Their website says that in 2005/06 public funding was worth 129 million, and  income from other sources was 41.9 million. It reports to Parliament through the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as does the National Heritage Memorial Fund. ............

So as these government influenced, if not technically controlled, organisations set up monopolies and divide up our heritage between themselves, we as photographers find that some would like to restrict greatly what we take. They think its their property, their rights, their option to do deals with other groups or in some cases commercial organisations and set the rules so as to be commercially convenient and beneficial to themselves, establishing monopolies.

This flies completely against the trend in other areas of law, business and government, with ramblers being given greater rights to cross land, with monopolies not being allowed between commercial operations. Some of what has been done is probably illegal, especially where commercial monopolies are developed.

Morally we also need to ask why we should have restrictions put on us to photograph properties that we all own, and belongs to the nation, this includes all properties held for us by the National Trust, English Heritage and the many other agencies, charities and brands governments have established. Those running these organisations should also remember that they are working for us, and while they need to have entry fees and some other means to cover costs maybe, we the public are likely at some time to look at who is running this and who is receiving what benefit. Like MP's its likely that some will get a surprise when the public get to see what is happening with the fog removed.

Maybe we should let them know we are watching them.

Maybe we have not asked enough questions or looked in enough detail so far..........

See also:-


By:  Keith Park  Section: Heritage Key:
Page Ref: Heritage_takeover Topic: Heritage Last Updated: 06/2009

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