The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made its entire collection of art in the public domain — more than 375,000 images — available to the public under Creative Commons Zero. The designation means that the general public can use the images in any way they see fit.
The museum uploaded high-resolution scans of its collection of art that falls under the Public Domain, and has invited the public to download it. The museum has an additional 65,000 images that have been digitized, but which aren’t in the public domain, according to The New York Times.
While the works themselves are in the Public Domain, the high-resolution images are distinct works in and of themselves, Tallon said, and while the original art can be used for any purpose, it’s the high-resolution images that the museum has taken that is being made available. “By going Open Access, The Met is relinquishing any claim of copyright it may have to those images.” He explained. “We chose the CC0 license so that it would be clear that the Museum is not claiming copyright to the images. We wanted to be as unambiguous as possible about the fact that users can now copy, share and remix these images without copyright restriction.”
“Increasing access to the Museum’s collection and scholarship serves the interests and needs of our 21st-century audiences by offering new resources for creativity, knowledge, and ideas,” museum director and CEO Thomas P. Campbell noted in a statement.
The project is an extension of what the museum was already doing, the Met’s chief digital officer Loic Tallon told The Verge. “Cataloging the collection, and increasing access to the collection are practices and activities as old as the institution, and core to The Met’s mission.”
Tallon noted that over the decades, the Met has been working to catalog its collection, and that opening the museum’s holdings to the rest of the world through the internet is another logical step. “We continue though to evolve these practices and activities based on our audiences needs and the tools available to us: in this case using digital cataloguing and changes to our licensing policy to meet the needs and expectations of digital audiences.”
The decision to classify its work under the Creative Commons Zero designation is an update to the museum’s Open Access for Scholarly Content initiative, a 2014 program which provides 400,000 public domain images for scholars for non-commercial use. The Creative Commons designation allows creators to go beyond that: the images can be used in non-commercial and commercial works alike.
To further that goal, museum officials also announced that it will partner with Creative Commons, the Wikimedia community, Artstor, the Digital Public Library of America, and Pinterest, which will allow the museum to promote its collection around the world. It will also be home to a Wikimedian-in-residence: Richard Knipel, the president of Wikimedia New York City, who will work with the larger Wikimedia community to “Wikify The Met, and Metify the Wiki.”
Tallon explained that the Met is forging some new paths on its own. For one, it’s a private institution, rather than a public one, and it’s also a heavyweight in the art world with an enormous collection.
In addition to working with Wikimedia, the Met has also made the information about its collection — known as tombstone data — available as a file on GitHub, which it hopes will allow coders to experiment with the data. Tallon explained that they’ve had some good examples to follow, such as The Museum of Modern Art, which has also made its collections data available under Open Access.
The Met is following in the footsteps of other institutions, such as the New York Public Library, which released nearly 200,000 public domain images a year ago. In recent years, there have been a handful of pioneering institutions. Tallon called out two: Statens Museum for Kunst in Denmark and the Rijksmuseum in The Netherlands, outlining that they have both used the CC0 designation, and that they didn’t use a two tiered system where users have access to standard resolution images for free, but have to pay for the high-resolution art.