Techdirt has published a number of posts that explore the issue of whether art organizations can stop people sharing images of works in their collections when the latter are indisputably in the public domain. Even if museums might be able to claim copyright in their “official” photographic images, the more important question is whether they ought to. The good news is that some institutions are beginning to realize that using copyright monopolies in this way contradicts their basic reason for existing — to share the joy of art. Here, for example, is a wonderful statement of that principle from the Getty Museum entitled “Open Content, An Idea Whose Time Has Come“:
Today the Getty becomes an even more engaged digital citizen, one that shares its collections, research, and knowledge more openly than ever before. We’ve launched the Open Content Program to share, freely and without restriction, as many of the Getty’s digital resources as possible.
The initial focus of the Open Content Program is to make available all images of public domain artworks in the Getty’s collections. Today we’ve taken a first step toward this goal by making roughly 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose.
These are high-resolution, reproduction-quality images with embedded metadata, some over 100 megabytes in size. You can browse all available images here, or look for individual “download” links on the Getty Museum’s collection pages. As part of the download, we’ll ask for a very brief description of how you’re planning to use the image. We hope to learn that the images will serve a broad range of needs and projects.
As that makes clear, the scheme is not strictly “freely and without restriction” since you are asked for a description of what you plan to do with the image; there’s also a request that attribution be given. However, these are minor restrictions. And the Getty certainly gets why collections should be doing this:
Why open content? Why now? The Getty was founded on the conviction that understanding art makes the world a better place, and sharing our digital resources is the natural extension of that belief. This move is also an educational imperative. Artists, students, teachers, writers, and countless others rely on artwork images to learn, tell stories, exchange ideas, and feed their own creativity. In its discussion of open content, the most recent Horizon Report, Museum Edition stated that “it is now the mark — and social responsibility — of world-class institutions to develop and share free cultural and educational resources.”
That is the key point: art galleries and museums have a moral duty to share the expressions of creativity entrusted to them, so that others can “feed their own creativity” and contribute back to the commons of art for others to draw on. The Getty is to be congratulated not only for making this move, but articulating so clearly the reasons for doing so. Let’s hope other art organizations around the world now follow suit.
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