Metropolitan Museum of Art Puts 375,000 Public-Domain Images in Creative Commons

Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, oil on canvas. VIA THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART/LICENSED UNDER CC0 1.0

Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, oil on canvas.


As part of a new initiative it’s calling Open Access, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has placed 375,000 images of public-domain works in the Creative Commons. This major, though not unprecedented, move by one of the world’s most important museums means that users can now access pictures of many of the Met’s holdings on Wikimedia, and that these images are now subject to free use, with no copyright restrictions.

Users can now head to the Creative Commons website, where they can search the image database by creator, title, or tags. In a blog post on Wikimedia, Richard Knipel, the Met’s “Wikimedian-in-Residence,” stated the goal of the initiative was to “Wiki-fy the Met, and Met-ify the Wiki.” The museum is currently planning edit-a-thons and further efforts to update the data entries for each work. Among the institutions helping with the Open Access program are Pinterest, the popular picture-sharing social media platform, and Artstor, the online database for images of artworks used mainly by academics and researchers.

The Unicorn in Captivity (from the "Unicorn Tapestries"), 1495–1505. TKTK

The Unicorn in Captivity (from the “Unicorn Tapestries”), 1495–1505.


Among the works now available on the Creative Commons database are Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware, a marble bust of a Hellenistic ruler, a Nadar photograph of the artist and his wife in a hot-air balloon, the Neo-Sumerian Statue of Gudea, and the “Unicorn Tapestries.” Many of the museum’s modern and contemporary holdings are still not in the Creative Commons, however, due to copyright restrictions held by artist’s estates, foundations, galleries, and various artists-rights organizations.

Though the Met’s far-reaching move to make images of works in its collection is important, setting a standard for world-class encyclopedic museums like the Louvre and the Hermitage, it is not the first museum to start such an initiative. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has similarly pushed to add images of its holdings to the Creative Commons. The Dallas Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Yale Art Gallery, and the Yale Center for British Art have also begun similar initiatives.

That said, the Met’s Open Access program marks a new precedent. At a press conference this morning, the museum’s director, Thomas P. Campbell, noted that the museum “now becomes the largest and most diverse open-access museum collection in the world.”

“This new open-access initiative demonstrates our desire to adapt our practices,” Campbell added. The Met’s chief digital officer, Loic Tallon, called the Open Access program “an exciting milestone in the Met’s digital evolution.”

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