Thursday, 13 June 2013

Using Museum Images - Open and Closed

I've been thinking about the discussion about "openness" that has been happening on the 'Teach the Web' and Open Education MOOCs that I have been part of and I have written on the issue of the ability to use images from museum digital collections before.

I have decided to leave behind the debate about whether museums should make their digital collections open to personal and educational use for a while and let people know what the state of play is at the moment.

Below is a list of museums that allow, to a greater or lesser extent, open access to their digital collections. I thought that it would be useful for those who wish to use museum images in their work without having to break any copyright (and other restrictions) issues.

Each of them will be rated according to one of the most influential documents on open education: The Four R’s of Openness and ALMS Analysis by John Hilton III, David Wiley, Jared Stein and Aaron Johnson. In this article they state that there are four levels of openness. I'll call this the Four R's Score. They are:

  • Reuse - The most basic level of openness. People are allowed to use all or part of  the work for their own purposes (e.g. download an educational video to watch at a later time).
  • Redistribute - People can share the work with others (e.g. email a digital article to a colleague).
  • Revise - People can adapt, modify, translate, or change the form the work (e.g. take a book written in English and turn it into a Spanish audio book). 
  • Remix - People can take two or more existing resources and combine them to create a new resource (e.g. take audio lectures from one course and combine them with slides from another course to create a new derivative work). 
The museums listed below is a work in progress. If you aware of any museums or art galleries that allow some free access to their online collections then please let me know so that I can add them.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the United States and also one of the largest museums in the world. It has over two million works in it's collection ranging from art from classical Greece and Ancient Egypt through to contemporary works and has examples of art and antiquities from across the globe.

According to their terms and conditions images can be downloaded and use for personal and educational use:

Materials are made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws. Users may download these files for their own use, subject to any additional terms or restrictions which may be applicable to the individual file or program. Users must, however, cite the author and source of the Materials as they would material from any printed work, and the citations should include the URL "" By downloading, printing, or otherwise using Materials, whether accessed directly from this website or via other sites or mechanisms, users agree that they will limit their use of such files to non-commercial, educational, personal or for fair use, and will not violate the Museum's or any other party's proprietary rights

They then mention several times on the same page that the images can be downloaded but cannot be altered in any way. Images from the museum collection can be included on other websites (personal or educational) but with the following proviso:

only if your website takes in no advertisements or sponsors, does not charge a fee for services, and does not offer any product or service for sale.

So the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a Four R's Score of 2 (Revising and Remixing is prohibited)

The image catalogue is here.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

LACMA is the largest art museum in the western part of the United States and holds over 100,000 objects from the ancient period to modern times.

According to the terms and conditions on their website:

The text, images, and data, including without limitation audio and video clips, software, documentation, and other information contained in the files on this Site (collectively, the "Content") are either (1) images of works from LACMA's collections that LACMA believes are in the public domain, some of which are made available without restriction (these images are marked "Public Domain High Resolution Image Available" as described below); or (2) protected by copyright (the "Protected Content"). Such Content, whether or not in the public domain, may be subject to other restrictions as well, including rights of privacy and publicity, under applicable law.

When it comes to the Public Domain images the same page says:

The Public Domain High Resolution Image Available mark indicates that LACMA is unaware of any current copyright restrictions on the Content so designated, either because (i) the term of copyright has expired, (ii) no evidence has been found that copyright restrictions apply, or (iii) LACMA owns copyright but would like to share this Content with the public without exercising control as part of our mission to engage and educate our communities.  

That gives the Los Angeles County Museum of Art a magnificent 4 out of 4 in the Four R's Score for the Public Domain images and 0 out of 4 for the Protected Content.

The image catalogue is here. It is possible to search for only Public Domain images.

The Walters Art Museum (Baltimore)

Based on the private collections of William and Henry Walters, the museum has significant collections of ancient art, Islamic art, Mesoamerican art and European art from the medieval and Renaissance period.

According to their terms and conditions:

All photography on our website(s) is governed by Creative Commons Licensing and can be used without cost or specific permission. Artworks in the photographs are in the public domain due to age. The photographs of two-dimensional objects have also been released into the public domain. Photographs of three-dimensional objects and all descriptions have been released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License and the GNU Free Documentation License.

According to Wikipedia, the Walters Art Museum collaborated in uploading 20,000 images to Wikipedia Commons, one of the largest releases done by any museum.

However, on the same page is this:

The images supplied are not to be cropped or altered in any way without prior approval. 

This, of course, does not suggest that alteration (Revising or Remixing) cannot be done but that it cannot be done freely. In other words, approval is needed first.

So, strictly speaking, a Four R's Score of 2 out of 4 as it is not possible to freely Revise and Remix. However, the fact that such a large part of the collection is available as high-quality downloads should be acknowledged.

You can access the catalogue here

British Library (London)

The use and reuse of British Library images is a bit complicated. To quote from their Terms and Conditions:

The audio, video, text, images or other material made available on this website "the Site" by the British Library to you (collectively, the "Content") is either: protected by third-party rights such as copyright or trademarks (for which the British Library is permitted to make available to you), is copyright to The British Library Board, or are materials which are in the public domain or made available under a Creative Commons licence.

"Public Domain content": the Content on the Site marked "Public Domain" consists of Content from the British Library’s collections, which the Library believes are in the public domain in most territories. Content marked “Public Domain” indicates that the Library is unaware of any current copyright restrictions on the Content either because: (i) the term of copyright has expired in most countries or: (ii) no evidence has been found that copyright restrictions apply.

So some of the images are available for use and reuse but many are not. One example of where reuse is permitted is with their Catalogue of Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts. The Guidance Notes for this site state that:

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts content is now available for download and reuse. Although still technically in copyright in the UK (and a number of other common law territories) the images are being made available under a Public Domain Mark* which indicates that there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, adaptation, republication or sharing of the content available from the site.

This makes it difficult to give it a Four R's Score but it appears to be 0 out of 4 for much of the collection and 4 out of 4 for some of it.

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts is here

Yale University Museums, Library and Archives

Yale University is the home to some of the most important museums and libraries in the world. It includes the Yale Center for British Art (which holds a collection of British art from the 16th century to the present day), the Peabody Museum (a Natural History Museum), the University Art Gallery (a huge collection of art from around the world) and the University Library. Yale University has opened up their digital collections for downloading and reuse. As their website says:

The preservation, transmission, and advancement of knowledge in the digital age are promoted by the creative use and reuse of digitized content for research, teaching, learning, and creative activities. The goal of digitization is to enhance access to the collections in Yale’s museums, archives, and libraries for students, faculty, and the world. To this end, Yale will make digital copies of unrestricted public domain collections available for use without limitations through the University’s electronic interfaces.

This gives Yale University a magnificent 4 out 4 on the Four R's Score.

There is a search facility which allows you to look through all of the museums and libraries in one place. You can find it here

Imperial War Museum (London, Manchester and Cambridgeshire)

The online catalogue of the Imperial War Museum (which covers the military and social history of warfare in Britain) allows many images to be downloaded. Their Non-Commercial Licence says:

The following licence applies to reproductions of certain works in the IWM collection and means that you can re-use the image, film or sound recording for non commercial purposes under the terms of this licence. To find out which works are covered by this licence,  mainly indicated as © IWM or © Crown Copyright: IWM, please go to Collections Search and right click on an image or look to the right for a link to "share and reuse" the item. 

There are over 70,000 images on the catalogue along with films and nearly 10,000 sound recordings. However, the Licence then goes on to state that users must:

ensure that you do not adapt, manipulate, alter, crop or amend the Information in any way that changes the original.

So Reuse and Redistribution is allowed but Revising and Remixing is not. That gives it a Four R's Score of 2.

The catalogue can be found here.

Smithsonian Institution (New York and Washington D.C.)

This is the world's largest museum complex with 19 museums, a zoo, 9 research centres and a host of affiliated museums around the world. A list of the museums can be found here

Given it's size it is not surprising that there are over 8 million digital records and nearly a million images, sound files and other resources. Their Terms of Use for these resources says:

The Content that the Smithsonian makes available on the SI Websites may be owned by the Smithsonian, owned by others and used with their permission (such as user-generated content), or used in accordance with applicable law. Some Content is in the public domain and some Content is protected by third party rights, such as copyright, trademark, rights of publicity, privacy, and contractual restrictions.
Smithsonian Content is identified as having “no known copyright restrictions” when the Smithsonian is unaware of any copyright restrictions on its use. This may mean that: (1) a copyright existed at one time but was not renewed, or the copyright may have expired, or the owner may have intentionally placed the Content into the public domain; or (2) the Content was never eligible for copyright protection because it was created by an employee of the United States as part of his or her official duties, or (3) there are no copyright markings or other indications on the Content to indicate that it was copyrighted or otherwise restricted; or (4) Smithsonian records do not indicate any evidence of copyright restrictions. These facts do not necessarily mean that the Content is in the public domain, but rather indicate that no evidence has been found to show that copyright restrictions apply.
To paraphrase this, permission for use and reuse is given where there are no known copyright restrictions. When searching the online catalogue it is possible to see which resources the Smithsonian believes has no copyright restrictions. I can find nothing on the Terms of Use about revising and remixing resources. The assumption should be that this is allowed since it is not disallowed.
So the Smithsonian Institution gets full marks in the Four R's Score for the resources that have no copyright restrictions.
The catalogue of resources can be found here.
Riyksmuseum (Amsterdam)
The Riyksmuseum has recently opened after a ten year renovation that cost nearly 400 million Euros. It is the national museum  of the Netherlands and is rightly regarded as one of the great museums of the world. A visit to Amsterdam must include a visit.
The museum has now famously (at least in the museum and art worlds for the moment) made over 125,000 images of their collections available as a free high-resolution download. Users are free to do whatever they want with these images as long as it is non-commercial.
So of course they get 4 out of 4 on the 4 R's Score but with an extra star because, unlike many of the other museums that allow downloads, the images from the Riyksmuseum are at a very high resolution.
The catalogue of the images can be found here.