Frequently Asked Questions


What are the main ways in which media artworks are bought and sold?

There are two main ways in which artists working in video have traditionally made their work available. The first is through distributors and the second is through the fine-art gallery system.

A gallery or dealer will usually sell a work as unique, or part of a limited edition. A distributor will have different structures of payment depending on how you intend to use the work. Different formats may be bought for a particular screening or you may buy a media format with archival and exhibition rights. Restrictions apply, such as your ability to loan the work.

Who are some of the largest distributors of video?

EAI (Electronic Arts Intermix) in New York, Video Data Bank in Chicago , Li-MA in the Netherlands and LUX in the UK.

What am I really buying?

In purchasing a work of media installation art you are acquiring a combination of content, hardware, instructions and rights.

What does it mean to say a work is sold as a limited edition?

When a work is sold as a limited edition, similar to prints and cast sculpture, the number of the edition is declared and fixed when the work first enters the market. Someone buying the work will receive a certificate that will state which number within the edition has been purchased:, for instance one of three. The edition is a way of creating rarity and control in the world of reproducible media.

Who else owns an edition of the work?

The gallery who represents the artist will keep details of all the owners of editions sold.

What comes with the work?

This is normally determined by the seller/gallery but the exact details are usually negotiable. An acquisition could include hardware, but at least should include instructions, rights, and archival master copy and an exhibition copy.

What do I need to get?

See the pre-acquisition summary. This will most often include documentation of the installation, provenance of the artwork, an equipment checklist including the distinction between what is required but not included in the sale, an outline from the artist as to intent, special considerations for installations, an archival master and exhibition copies of the work.

What is dedicated display equipment/non-dedicated display equipment?

See the pre-acquisition summary

What are essential documents/contracts?

See the pre-acquisition summary

What are my rights and responsibilities as a buyer?

Your rights and responsibilities are determined in the Purchase Agreement. You should have the right to exhibit the work and in most cases lend the work. Responsibilities may include preserving, migrating and maintaining the work.

Do I get different rights if I buy the work as an edition rather than as a unique work?

No: your rights to loan, display, preserve and sell the work are the same whether you buy a work as a unique work or as an edition. However if you buy a work as an edition of six, for example, another five people also have those rights. You typically do not have the right in either case to show the work in more than place at a time.

The Copyright Agreement should specify the buyer’s rights with respect to display, preservation, lending, PR, and publication.

Unauthorized duplication of a copyrighted work may violate the rights of the copyright holder. A copyright license will establish and define the owner’s rights with regard to preservation, the creation of exhibition copies and similar issues having to do with the duplication of the work.

Most often the artist holds the copyright to his or her work. A seller claiming ownership of the copyright in the work should warrant that he or she has the rights and can confer them upon the buyer.

What is a Certificate of Authenticity?

The Certificate of Authenticity is a document signed by the artist or artist’s estate that certifies (a) that the work is a work of art and (b) that it is by the artist named in it.

What is an Affirmation of Title and how does it differ from the Certificate of Authenticity?

Affirmation of Title merely confirms the proper ownership of the copyright. It does not ensure the authenticity of the work of art itself.

What is an ‘Artist’s Proof’?

The existence of one or more artist’s proofs may be declared alongside the edition. For example one might see ‘Edition of 6 with 2 APs’. Artist’s proofs function as editions belonging to the artist. Artist’s proofs are also sometimes sold at a later date. If an artists sells all their dedicated artist’s proofs they would then have to ask an owner for permission to show the work.


What is sent when a media artwork is lent?

When you are lending a media artwork your needs of what you send depends on the nature of the work; in some cases you may need to ship everything needed to install the work, in other cases the display specifications and the media file may be enough. These details should be discussed well in advance. If the equipment is not unique to that work it is advisable to discuss with the borrower and discuss whether they are able to provide suitable equipment.

What is a virtual loan?

A virtual loan is one where the lender is named on the wall text and in the catalogue as lending the work but nothing physically moved from the lender to the borrower.

Preservation and Collection Management

What is the difference between film and video?

Film is essentially a transparent photographic medium through which light is projected to create an image. It usually requires a negative and is frame-based. Video is an electronic system of encoding whereby images and sound are encoded as electrical waveforms or pulses. To see the images, the electrical waveforms or pulses of energy have to be decoded. Video may be analogue or digital. Analogue video is stored as continuous waveforms digital video is stored as a binary system of 0s and 1s encoded as electronic pulses. Digital video is nowadays largely file based and no longer stored on video tape, although it may be stored data tape.

What is a master?

A master is approved by the artist, is the highest quality material and is usually the source from which copies are made.

Who holds the artist’s master?

In the days when the artist’s master was a particular object such as a tape, then who held the master was a greater issue than it is today. Nowadays a digital clone can be kept by many different stakeholders including the artist, a gallery, artist’s estate, museums, collectors and educational institutions.

The recommended migration formats change over time. The decision depends in part on the material supplied by the artist. When the master for a video artwork is provided in a fairly standard format, such as uncompressed video in a Quicktime wrapper, then a number of institutions are choosing to preserve that artist supplied copy as the master in the format in which it was supplied. Where the video format supplied is highly unusual then a decision is often made to create a new copy in a common format. Some institutions chose to ‘normalize’ their video, for example by holding all of their material as an uncompressed copy in an AVI wrapper. There is some discussion regarding the use of open source versus proprietary wrappers within a preservation system.

Is a copied tape identical to the original?

An analogue copy is never identical to the original and each time it is copied generational loss occurs. In the digital domain it is possible to achieve a perfect clone from one format to an identical format. However all digital tape formats are different and if you copy a digital tape made on one format to another format, changes will occur. This is due to differences in sampling rate, how the data is sampled and differences in the compression algorithms used.

What is an exhibition copy?

The exhibition copy is the copy of the media used for display. This is can be used during the installation and should be considered replaceable.

Whom do I contact for technical support?

Contact a conservator, gallery, distributor, consultant and/or artist/studio that are familiar with these types of works for a recommendation based on the support you need (see pre-acquisition summary). There are an increasing number of people with the necessary expertise who offer their services in a freelance capacity.

How do I document the work of art?

Documentation of the work usually includes a combination of photography, diagrams, schematics, legal documentation, Installation Specifications, and verbal/recorded accounts of the work. There are a number of tools, such as ‘Media Info’ that can also assist in extracting technical metadata. The documentation of an artwork is an ongoing process that traces the life of the work.

What should be included in archival files?

See post-acquisition summary. These files will usually include a receipt for the artwork, condition reports, the invoice, an acquisition summary, the certificate of authenticity, a copyright agreement, the artist’s contact information, a commissioning agreement (if applicable), the curatorial rationale, correspondence and transcripts of an artist’s interview.

What is a Condition Report?

The Condition Report is a record that monitors the physical and electronic qualities of all components of the work.

My collections management database only provides limited fields for cataloguing media art. Where can I learn more about additional fields?

Many museums, individuals and private collectors are struggling with this. Some producers of museum catalogue databases will revise their software in the future (please lobby them). In the meantime, you may need to create a database specifically for your media art collection. The ‘Cataloguing Project’ of Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP) may serve as a helpful resource.

How do I prepare myself for equipment becoming obsolete?

The best known preparation for obsolescence includes the stockpiling of equipment, information gathering, and dialogue with artists/technicians/corporations (through preservation planning).

How will the work last over time?

Media works last through processes of active preservation involving bit preservation and monitoring for obsolescence and other risks, documentation, the development over time of an understanding of the work and what is important to its conservation or preservation, an assessment of new replacement technologies, and dialogue with the artist as to possibilities for future iterations.

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