Open Access / Public Domain Images

U N D E R  C O N S T R U C T I O N 

What are public domain images? Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired or are, for some other reason, no longer applicable. For texts published the US, copyright is held for 70 years after the author dies. For images copyright is held for 70 years after the image was made. (For the math-challenged, that means the cut-off is 1944.) You can remix, redistribute, and use these images without restrictions or obtaining permissions.

What is Creative Commons Copyright? This non-commercial copyright means images are freely distributed for teaching and other non-profit/academic purposes, but there are restrictions on the use of images for publication. This is close to open access. You can search for images with a Creative Commons licence on Google, Flickr, etc.

CAA: Image Sources and Rights Clearance Agencies This is a short list of well-known image sources for academic use and publication.

  • Arspublik [browse image categories for public domain images] http://www.arspublik.com
  • ArtStor [search for IAP, Images for Academic Publishing, especially from the Met]
  • Bibliotheque National de France [thousands of high resolution images for study or educational purposes; fees to publish the images]
  • British Library [many high resolution images of manuscripts available for study or educational purposes; they charge for publication]
  • British Museum [downloadable images of prints and drawings for teaching, but some restrictions on publication] http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_search_results.aspx; Permissions/restrictions http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/atyourdesk/permissions/permiskey/permiskey.html; The original work(s) are in the public domain; the copies the Library supplies are in copyright as they are new copies of the original materials. This is why you will need to clear permission.”
  • Brooklyn Public Library [large photo bank with copyright status of images in many cases]
  • Database of Virtual Art www.virtualart.at
  • Flickr [varies; contact the individual photographer because some are professional or commercial photographers and some have agents]
  • Getty Image, Royalty Free Stock Images http://www.gettyimages.ca [New! Launched March 7, 2014: free, embeddable, for non-commercial use]
  • Getty Museum, Open Content Program http://www.getty.edu/about/opencontent.html [Launched 12 August 2013]
  • Good Free Photos [photo bank of images in public domain, give credit to goodfreephotos.com] http://www.goodfreephotos.com New Addition to List!
  • Graphic Print Collection Goettweig online www.gssg.at
  • Hermitage [strong collections in Baroque and 18C French painting, some French Impressionism and early 20C art]
  • Houghton Library [manuscript collection images freely available if the object is out of copyright and do not charge to publish the image]
  • Huntington LIbrary [thousands of high resolution images for study or educational purposes; fees to publish the images]
  • Koninklijke Bibliotheek [thousands of high resolution images for study or educational purposes; fees to publish the images]
  • Library of Congress [for photos that are out of copyright such as Civil War photos]
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art/LACMA  http://www.lacma.org/image-library
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art [400,000 images high-resolution images of works in their collection for non-commercial uses] http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online?tabname=artist-maker-culture NEW! Released May 21, 2014
  • Museum of Natural History [partially digitized collection of 7,000 photographs]  http://images.library.amnh.org/digital/ NEW! Released May 7, 2014
  • National Gallery of Art https://images.nga.gov/en/page/show_home_page.html [offers images freely with open access for any kind of use]
  • NY Public Library [photo bank with many images out of copyright]
  • other libraries in France [thousands of high resolution images for study or educational purposes; fees to publish the images]
  • OpenGLAM, Open Collections [list of online databases of images compiled by Open Knowledge Foundation] http://openglam.org/open-collections/
  • Picdrome Public Domain Pictures [browse the gallery index for great images of monuments under “travel” and “architecture and cityscapes”] http://picdrome.com
  • Pixabay [includes a mix of public domain and copyrighted images, including some great images of architectural monuments] http://pixabay.com
  • Rijksmuseum [thousands of high resolution images for study or educational purposes; fees to publish the images]
  • University Library of Victoria [images freely available if the object is out of copyright and do not charge to publish the image]
  • Victoria and Albert [publishes all its images under a Creative Commons non-commercial copyright]
  • Walters Art Museum [downloadable high resolution images for free use in scholarly publications; all images are published under a Creative Commons non-commercial copyright] http://art.thewalters.org/
  • WikiCommons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_page [millions of freely usable media files]
  • Wikipedia has an entry on public domain image resources. Meh… not relevant images or links for most art historians.
  • Yale Centre for British Art http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/collection/yale-center-for-british-art?projectId=art-project&hl=en [publishes all digital images in Google Art Project]

Frequently Asked Questions

The College Art Association’s (CAA) Committee on Intellectual Property for and the Arts has assembled a very detailed set of links, webpages, and discussions of fequently asked questions regarding publishing images. Topics include US Copyright lawFair Use GuidelinesCopyright Outside of the USAgencies for Image Sources and Rights Clearance, publishing Visual Art/Artists, publishing images from Libraries, Archives, Museums, etc.

Images and the Public Domain (originally published in CAA News, Sept 2003) gives guidelines about determining whether an image is in public domain and whether to seek rights from relevant institutions to reproduce the image.

Personal note:

I compiled this list of repositories for public domain images free for use in teaching and publication because the redundancy of emails on listservs and browser bookmarks drives me crazy. This list is incomplete; it only includes links to some of the institutions that I know have open access to their digital images. I strongly feel that there are better formats for this list. For example, if someone converted this list into a wiki, individuals could add comments on their own experiences and highlight the strengths of particular repositories, and institutions could update their own links as their image sharing projects develop. Unfortunately, most academics I know are reluctant to update a wiki page and regard this kind of activity as either overly “high-tech” and complicated or a waste of time. I hope some other organization or institution (with staff and money) will take this over as a service to art historians, art critics, artists, and professors. There must be a better way of offering this resources to our broad and diverse community.

There is considerable discrepancy about what is held under copyright; some institutions base their copyright restrictions on the creation date of the original object, but other institutions base their copyright on the creation date of the image or photograph of the object. Makes my head ache.

U N D E R  C O N S T R U C T I O N 

Updated: 21 March 2014
*NOT OFFICIAL LEGAL ADVICE*
Links and comments are compiled from my own experience and from comments shared on the CAAH listserv.
Add an institution to my list? Broken link?
Please leave a comment in the reply box below.

3 thoughts on “Open Access / Public Domain Images”

  1. Hi, please consider adding http://www.goodfreephotos.com to your list of resources, It’d be much appreciated. Thanks.

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