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Smithsonian Removes Copyright Restrictions for Nearly 3 Million Images

The Smithsonian Institution has announced an open access project that removes copyright restrictions from about 2.8 million images from its digital collection and almost two centuries' worth of data. "Smithsonian Open Access" allows online visitors to download, transform and share this content for any purpose, for free. Over the last month, since the opening of the initiative, nearly a quarter of a million assets have been downloaded by users and almost 15 million assets have been viewed.

And it'll grow, the organization noted. The Smithsonian will continue to add items on an ongoing basis, with another 200,000 images being considered for open access designation by late 2020.

Content includes high-resolution 2D and 3D images of collection items, along with research datasets and collections metadata, which users can download and access in bulk. The compilation was pulled from all 19 museums making up the Institution, as well as nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo.

Previously, the Smithsonian had a collection of 4.7 million images available online, specifically for personal, non-commercial and educational use. Now most of those carry a Creative Commons "Zero" designation, which waives the Institution's copyright altogether and allows commercial users to tap into the collection without any kind of special permission.

The open access will also make Smithsonian content available via Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Google Arts & Culture and other digital platforms.

Positive image from a glass plate negative by Walter J. Hussey, Schoolclassroom. Source: Smithsonian Open Access

Positive image from a glass plate negative by Walter J. Hussey, Schoolclassroom. Source: Smithsonian Open Access

"Open access exemplifies the Smithsonian's core mission: the ‘increase and diffusion' of knowledge our institution has fostered for nearly 175 years," said John Davis, interim director of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, who led the initiative from its inception, in a statement. "With Smithsonian Open Access, we're inviting people everywhere to make that knowledge their own––to share and build on our digital collections for everything from creative works, to education and scholarly research, to bold innovations we have yet to imagine."

Data hosting is being provided by the Amazon Web Services Public Dataset Program.

The collection is available online at the Open Access site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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