Art, Museums and Open Content

Keeping alive the cultural and artistic legacy of the world


The main concept behind the open content licenses is the development of means to spread knowledge and ideas around the world.
Many artists have embraced these pratices and now are using them to inspire and develop creative collective works and useful, often revolutionary ideas.
The kind of ideas that change our way of living independently from the market’s path.
The latest news are even better than this, that is what we all have been thinking about open content for a while: the J. Paul Getty Trust adopted the Open Content Program
The reasons for this choice is explained on the iris blog:

“we recognized the need to share images of works of art in an unrestricted manner, freely, so that all those who create or appreciate art—scholars, artists, art lovers, and entrepreneurs—will have greater access to high-quality digital images for their studies and projects. Art inspires us, and imagination and creativity lead to artistic expressions that expand knowledge and understanding. The Getty sincerely hopes that people will use the open content images for a wide range of activities and that they will share the fruits of their labors with others.”

NB: These operating programs:

  • the J. Paul Getty Museum
  • the Getty Research Institute
  • the Getty Conservation Institute
  • the Getty Foundation
are not affiliated with Getty Images.

So nothing to share with photostocks and photographic agencies as well; these concernings seem to belong more to the curatorial activities of a museum, the Getty Trust defines itself as:

“..a cultural and philanthropic institution dedicated to critical thinking in the presentation, conservation, and interpretation of the world’s artistic legacy. Through the collective and individual work of its constituent Programs—Getty Conservation Institute, Getty Foundation, J. Paul Getty Museum, and Getty Research Institute—it pursues its mission in Los Angeles and throughout the world, serving both the general interested public and a wide range of professional communities with the conviction that a greater and more profound sensitivity to and knowledge of the visual arts and their many histories are crucial to the promotion of a vital and civil society.”

To obtain this the Getty trust has pubblished a first block of high resolution pictures using a public domain license.. Museum images can be found on the Museum’s Collection webpages or on the Getty Search Gateway. Those available as open content images are identified with a “Download” link. Images provided are JPEG files at a minimum of 300 DPI.
And the aim is a civil society… what a venture!

This last sentence was born in an italian mind like mine… and I know it sound strange for readers all around the world, lets have a little look to how the Getty trust has come to this decision, according to their blog and then I’ll focus on our italian reality, just to let people know.

In its discussion of open content, the most recent Horizon Report, Museum Edition stated that “it is now the mark—and social responsibility—of world-class institutions to develop and share free cultural and educational resources.”
Forward-thinking organizations such as the Walters Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, Yale University, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Harvard University have shown how powerful open access to collections and research can be. The Open Content Program represents a new commitment to digital openness in the Getty’s work

Museums in the world are developing their “social responsibility” and are becoming conscious of the social power of open access and research to collection.
The only thing they ask is fair use:

Attribution to the Getty

Please use the following source credit when reproducing an image:
Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Just to do my part the image I selected for this blog post is a stereograph daguerreotype by Thomas Richard Williams done in 1850/52.

Lets come back to Italy from California, here even a genuine initiative like Wiki loves monument, a photo contest about monuments around the world, which aims to map the best monument all aver the countries, has had bureaucracy troubles and had to go asking to the parliament, for some rules to be changed, because our laws about “image ownership” are so narrow that people in italy cannot publish photos of the internal parts of our monuments (they are not on public view so they are a propriety of the state which has to “give” the right for using images…)

Our italian bureaucracy has come to interfere in such an important intent as this:

Cultural heritage is an important part of the knowledge Wikipedia collects and disseminates. Everybody can contribute images as well as write articles. An image is worth a thousand words, in every language at once and local enthusiasts can (re)discover the cultural, historical, or scientific significance of their neighbourhood.

Go figure, if it could be possible, for italian public officials to just immagine that a museum litterally gives away for free images of its pieces, it couldn’t ever be possible, neither a concept like the social responsibility might be used, in a country where the director of an historic library (Girolamini) was sued for stealing its ancient books…