Basic Questions

Technology-based and variable, video art poses unique challenges for the institutional or individual collector. Reproducible electronic art forms can often seem to defy the very notion of collecting art, which is traditionally tied to the acquisition of unique objects. The landscape for collecting media art has changed dramatically in recent years, as galleries sell limited video editions in the art market, museums apply advanced archival practices to media works, and artists make digital works that confound the idea of "ownership." In this new climate, sometimes the most fundamental questions are the most important ones to ask. Why is it important to acquire an archival format in addition to a reference or viewing copy for my collection? What media formats are considered archival? What rights am I acquiring when I buy a media artwork? What is a video "edition" and how does it differ from an "uneditioned" video art work? How do I go about migrating works in my collection from an earlier format? And how can I plan for the works' future viability? These and the other questions below might be seen as starting points for demystifying the process of collecting single-channel video art works.

What are the recommended formats for collecting single-channel works?

Institutions or individuals should acquire media art works on accepted archival formats such as Digital Betacam (also known as DigiBeta). Beta SP is an acceptable analog archival format, although DigiBeta is preferable as the primary digital archival standard. These formats, when stored properly, will have an extended life and ensure the longevity and quality of the work. When acquiring single-channel video work it is important to obtain the work in both an archival acquisition format and a reference or exhibition format (or the rights to create such copies on formats such as DVD). A viewing, reference, or exhibition copy should be made from source material on archival formats or uncompressed video files, and authored by a knowledgeable professional.

Why is it important to acquire an archival format in addition to a reference or viewing copy for my collection?

Archival formats provide the best quality video image and sound available. For example, there is no generation loss of content when remastering from Digital Betacam because it is an exact digital clone of the original. The archival format, if stored properly, will have an extended life and ensure the longevity and quality of the work. With proper rights, archival formats can be used to create reference copies as needed in the future; the reference or viewing copy will be prone to wear and tear from frequent exhibition or other viewing. Reference or exhibition copies (such as DVD) are made on less resilient formats as they require less expensive playback equipment and can be programmed to loop in a gallery setting.

What is a "certificate of authenticity"?

A "certificate of authenticity" typically accompanies the purchase of a limited-edition single-channel video work from a gallery. The certificate, signed by the artist and gallerist, confirms the number of the edition and outlines the rights being extended to the collector. This document is necessary when considering the resale of media works in the secondary market.

Can I make copies of the works I acquire?

Rights to reproduce media works are specific to each license agreement or contract. It is safest to assume that copying of any kind is forbidden unless you have drawn up and signed an agreement with the artist, distributor, or gallery that specifically allows for duplication. Acquisition of archival formats from a distributor may include duplication rights for additional reference copies for in-house viewing purposes. These rights will be clearly outlined in the license agreement, which will accompany your purchase. It is advisable to discuss these rights before purchasing works from a distributor or a gallery to avoid confusion on the subject after the sale has been completed.

Can I tour works in my collection?

Most license agreements accompanying works acquired from a distributor provide exhibition rights for the purchasing institution only. If you wish to tour works in your collection, you must negotiate a specific advance agreement, which outlines the terms and conditions of these rights.

Can I show the works in my collection on the Internet?

The short answer is "no." Most artists, distributors, and galleries will not allow Webcasting of video artworks in order to protect the copyright interests of artists and to restrict unlicensed public presentations. A specially written contract would need to be negotiated with the copyright holder, ultimately the artist, for Webcasting to be allowed.

Do artists have specific equipment requirements?

Many artists conceive media works in which the presentation details are integral to the work. In such cases, the artist may identify very specific requirements for how the work must be presented. These requirements may range from issues of display (for example, a work must be shown on a monitor, or may only be projected) to what formats can be used for exhibition. When acquiring media works, whether from the artist, a distributor, or gallery, it is important to inquire about such requirements, so that the works can be presented as the artist intended. If guidelines are not provided, the collector should consider the intent of the work, as the decision to project it or show it on a particular monitor may alter its meaning. It is important to know any particular requirements before buying a media artwork and before purchasing equipment.

How do I register or catalog the video works in my collection?

Depending on the size and mission of your collection, you may already have a collection management database system in place. However, many of these systems do not sufficiently address the registration nuances associated with media artworks, which are reproducible and variable. The Preservation section of this Resource Guide outlines Best Practices for the inventory, cataloging, numbering and labeling of single-channel video works. IMAP (Independent Media Arts Preservation) has produced a user-friendly, customizable collection management database in Filemaker Pro that may be used for cataloging single-channel video works. Please visit for more information.

My collection includes 3/4" videotapes that I bought in the 1970s and 1980s. How do I migrate these works to the current archival standards? Do I have the rights to migrate them?

First find out whether you have the rights to migrate or transfer your tapes to another, more recent format. Check your license or sales agreement. If you cannot find the relevant paperwork, contact the organization or gallery from whom you purchased the video. If you cannot locate them, contact the artist or his or her representative. You must have a rights agreement in some form to have the tapes migrated. When you have this agreement you must go to a video preservation specialist or a video transfer house, depending on the condition of the tapes, to have them migrated to an accepted preservation format.

What's the difference between digital and analog formats? What about "NTSC" and "PAL"?

It is useful to understand the distinction between analog and digital (including high-definition) media formats and geographic video standards. The critical distinction between analog and digital formats is the way in which the information is stored. When examined closely, analog video appears as a series of lines, while digital video is comprised of pixels, or tiny boxes of color. High-definition (HD) is most commonly presented in a "wide screen" format. There are two resolution standards, 1080i (interlaced) and 720p (progressive). NTSC and PAL are the two main video broadcast standards or systems; they are incompatible. NTSC is the video standard used in North America and Japan. PAL is the dominant television standard in most of the world, including Europe. For a detailed discussion of these issues, please visit Equipment & Technical Issues.