People often ask me where they can find images of collection items that they can reuse for free. There is no single website hosting all of the reusable images available so I thought I’d list my favourite galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs) that make at least some images of their collections freely available for reuse. If you’ve got a spare 5 minutes go and have an explore.
Top of my list is, of course, Te Papa. I’m biased I know. In June 2014 ago we launched open access images in Collections Online. Users can download and reuse certain images of collection items, rights permitting. There are now over 110,000 images of Te Papa collection items are available for you to download and reuse. 75,500 with No Known Copyright Restrictions for any use whatsoever including commercial use and 30,500 usable under the terms of the Creative Commons copyright licence Attribution – Non-commercial – No derivative works (CC BY-NC-ND). The image resolution is variable but we provide the highest resolution we have available. You can find them by checking the “with downloadable images” checkbox and entering a search term in Collections Online.
The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands has a really nice website and a beautiful collection. My favourites are the floral still lifes and the Japanese prints. In order to get downloading you just need to sign up to the Rijksstudio. Signing up allows you to collect groups of items and also to zoom in, crop and save details of artworks. Best of all you get access to downloadable high resolution images. If you’re publicly distributing copies it’s best practice to credit the Rijksmuseum as the source of the images but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
The NYPL launched this service in January 2016. When you type into the search box a check box becomes available to filter results to show only public domain material. It’s the public domain material that is available for any use. Just like the Rijksmuseum, the New York Public Library doesn’t require a credit as the image source.
The Met recently (February 2017) changed it’s policy and released images of it’s public domain artworks under Creative Commons Zero (CC0) designation. Their collections website has a handy Public Domain Art Works check box to make searching easier.
This link to the Getty collection allows you to search on only those images that are available for download and open reuse for any purpose. Like most of institutions the Getty has some items that remain in copyright and so aren’t available for you to download and reuse but using this link avoids the images with restrictions. The Getty gives image caption information for you to use when publishing the image and also asks that you use the credit “Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.”
The majority of this collection is in the public domain. The rights status and the download button is on the object page so you need to click into the object record webpage to get access. If the work is one of the few in this collection that remains in copyright, the download functionality won’t be there. This organisation released another 22,000 images on the first of January so enjoy looking through the new images.
The National Gallery of Art, Washington have created a separate website for their open reuse images so you don’t need to filter your search results. The maximum size of the images is 4000 pixels at the longest edge. This is a generous image size. It won’t print on the side of a bus but it will give you a good poster before the image starts to pixelate. They ask that you credit the image you use as “Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington”. If you look at their list of most popular downloads you’ll see some familiar artworks by Monet, Manet, and Van Gogh.
The LACMA have public domain images available for high resolution download and reuse without restriction. Protected content – the content where rights still exist – is not available to download. They have updated the website functionality to include a public domain filter so you can select a check box to search only those images that are available for reuse without restriction.
The National Library has an open reuse policy and is working towards clearing images from its collections for open reuse. While it’s not the biggest number of images in this list, keep an eye on this collection as I expect it to grow over time. Probably the easiest way to download the images that are cleared for reuse is via the National Library NZ Flickr Commons account. Library staff have worked on making images available on that platform as well as their own website.
The British Library has uploaded to Flickr 1,023,705 images to date with no known copyright restrictions. These images have been scanned from public domain books so vary in quality and image resolution. These are great if you’re using them for online use but some might be a bit small if you were thinking of printing them out. It’s always worth having a look though as there are so many that you’re bound to find something useful.
The Internet Archive also holds scans of public domain books including scans of book plates and illustrations. They have also uploaded the images of these artworks to Flickr for open reuse. Again the resolution size might not be quite what you need if you’re printing them out but the images are fine for online use.
Where possible the Walters Art Museum have licensed images using a Creative Commons Zero : No Rights Reserved (CC0) copyright licence. This licence waives all rights in the image. Unfortunately the collections online website doesn’t allow users to filter by rights so you’ll need to click into each of the object pages to find out whether the image is available for download. If you’re not sure what to search for check out their wikipedia page. It’s got a great overview of their collection.
This museum also provides high resolution download of public domain collection images. Like the Walters Art Museum the collections online website does not have a rights filter so again you’ll need to click into each of the object pages to find out whether the image is available for download. Depending on what you want to use the image for the site asks you to fill in use details. I’d encourage you to fill in these types of forms as it really helps institutions prove the value of providing images for open reuse. The Indianapolis Museum of Art also ask that you credit the images when you use them. The credit is “Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.”
The Library of Congress have high resolution tiff files available for download of large portions of its collection. They do not provide copyright advice and instead it’s the user who is responsible for ensuring that the copyright is cleared. On the plus side they do give information on how to work out copyright duration.
Creative Commons Licenses
If you’re looking for high quality, high impact reusable images it’s worth putting some time in to learn about Creative Commons licenses. These are copyright licenses that are added to works by the copyright holder. If the copyright owner picks one of these licenses they grant you permission in advance for certain uses as long as you respect the terms of the licence. If you can’t meet the terms of the licence then you will need to go back to the copyright holder for permission. This video explains more:
If you do use an image that has a Creative Commons licence you will need to credit the copyright holder and also ensure that the Creative Commons licence information travels with the work. This information is usually included in the image caption. Here’s a good crediting guide that can help you caption. Using Creative Commons licences is becoming more popular and not only by galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. Recently the Creative Commons organisation did a count and conservatively estimated that Creative Commons licenses had been used by copyright holders on over a billion creative works.
Institutions using one or more of the six Creative Commons licences include Te Papa and:
Auckland Museum uses the Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY) or the No Known Copyright Restrictions statement. Those items marked up with No Known Copyright Restrictions can be reused for any purpose including commercially. Those with CC BY can also be reused for any purpose as long as the Auckland War Memorial Museum is credited as the copyright holder and the Creative Commons license travels with the work. There is a “downloadable images” check box that allows users to search only on reuseable images.
The State Library of Queensland provides high resolution files for all of the out of copyright and Creative Commons copyright licensed digitised photographs, maps, sheet music and posters in their collection to download and reuse for free. Once you’ve entered a search term and got a list of results, you can filter the results using the options on the left hand side of the screen. The copyright filters are about half way down the list. It’s a bit clunky as you have to find the online image record and then download button but it is worth persevering as they’ve got some great images.
This Australian institution also uses the Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY) or the Public Domain mark. Once you have entered a search term you can refine the search results by filtering on the rights statement. They are also encouraging rights holders to licence using Creative Commons licensing so there are other images available using more restrictive Creative Commons copyright licensing.
This institution also uses CC BY licence or No Known Copyright Restrictions statement. The advanced search provides a rights filter. Brooklyn Museum was one of the first museums in the world to start to use creative commons licenses on their images of collection items.
The British Museum uses the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial ShareAlike licence (CC BY-NC-SA) on images on a large proportion of its collection items. Of particular interest to New Zealanders is the British Museum’s large collection of Maori taonga. The British Museum have invested a lot of time in photographing these taongataonga treasures Māori | Noun | listen. You have to register to be supplied the high resolution images but it’s free if you want to use the images non-commercially. If you want to use images commercially or without attribution you can apply to the British Museum’s image service and fees are likely to apply.
Non-Commercial use only
There are institutions that do not use Creative Commons licensing but make images available for non-commercial reuse. Check out the terms and conditions to see whether your use fits the requirements.
The Dallas Museum of Art also allows reuse of images of it’s collection but this is limited to non-commercial personal or educational use, including “fair use” as defined by U.S. copyright laws. Where the work is out of copyright or where the copyright owner in the image is the Dallas Museum of Art, a download icon appears below the image of the collection item.
You’re probably thinking, “Why can’t I go to one place to search for all the public domain material?”. Unfortunately no one’s invented this space yet. The closest thing available is the aggregator platform – sites that combine content from a large number of GLAM content providers.
Here in New Zealand we have Digital NZ – this site lists over 25 million digital items. You can filter by rights and get results that show only those items that are able to be used commercially or those that can be remixed, mashed up, and altered. You’ll need to check the licensing to see whether you have to credit the work and any other terms of the license. You do this by clicking on the image you’re interested in and going to the source of the image.
- Europeana. Europe’s digital library has over 13.5 million open access images and the development team have added an image quality filter so you can select and search for images that match the resolution you need.
- Trove, Australia. This site doesn’t filter on rights. The Trove team have recently built an app to help users identify works that are freely available for reuse.
- DPLA The Digital Public Library of America doesn’t have a rights filter. It does have rights information against the individual item.
- Biodiversity Heritage Library This is a specialty natural environment aggregator. This project focuses on providing access to scans of scientific books and articles on biodiversity. Like the British Library and the Internet Archive they also provide access to scans of book plates and illustrations via Flickr – over 100,000 images. These images are made available with a variety of copyright statements as it depends on what statement was chosen by the contributing organisation. The majority are available for open reuse.
These are just some of the collections that have high resolution images available for free reuse. The Open GLAM website lists a more. I hope you take some time to explore these collections and download some images for fun or for work.
13 January 2017 – I’ve updated this blog post to reflect improvements to the various websites and I’ve also added up-to-date image numbers.
8 February 2017 – I’ve updated this blog post as the Met have a new open access policy.
28 September 2018 – Updated to link to Europeana’s 13.5 million open images and refresh the image numbers on all the other sites.