Compare The Smithsonian To London's National Gallery When It Comes To Public Domain Images

from the one-way-or-the-other dept

As noted here recently, London's National Portrait Gallery is involved in a legal tiff concerning whether the photos it put online of public domain portraits are public domain themselves. The Gallery insists they are not, and wants to prevent others from using them. However, jump across to this side of the pond and compare that response to what the Smithsonian is now saying, concerning its plan to get content more freely available and shared:
Content Usage: Establish a pan-Institutional policy for sharing and using the Smithsonian's digital content, with particular focus on Copyright and Public Domain policies that encourage the appropriate re-use and sharing of Smithsonian resources.
That sounds a lot better, and more in-tune with the mission of such a museum. To be fair, a few years back, the Smithsonian had its own troubles claiming copyright over public domain images, so perhaps it just takes a bit of time for these things to sink in.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Names Aren't Important, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 2:58pm

    Question: How much "digital" content has Smithsonian paid to create itself, versus images that were handed to them already shot, example?

    I think this is getting back to that question of the content of the image being public domain, but a newly shot image potentially being copyright. London's National Portrait Gallery paid to produce new images, did the Smithsonian do the same

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Leon, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 3:08pm

    So is it illegal to bing the internet now?

    This is crazy bad. How will it get fixed? For example, if I want to go and shake the interwebs tree... oops, I meant bing the internet, and this link thing falls out, how do we know for sure that it will be in the public domain?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 4:47pm

    Personally, if the US Gov wanted to bump my taxes by a couple tenths of % points so the Smithsonian could afford take ultra high def digital photos, and build 3d representations of its collection to be freely available to the public I'd be all for it. Go a bit further and add documentation on every item attached to each piece they photograph/scan.. and I'd be for that one too.

    At the very least its a true public service. Something our government keeps missing the point on repeatedly lately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 4:52pm


    Funny enough, those images would be copyright to the Smithsonian. Amazing, isn't it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Tek'a R (profile), Aug 6th, 2009 @ 6:10pm

    Re: "so the Smithsonian could afford to take ultra high def photos.."

    Funny enough, there should not be a need for too much of this. As a way to make supplemental profits, the Smithsonian already takes "ultra high def digital photos" of their works for various prints, posters, teeshirts mugs and everything else in the world.

    These actions should be already paying for themselves. The thing that has been lacking has been a way to properly open up these images and scans to the public, in a format that properly expresses that it is, in fact, for open domain use.

    (along with making sure there is no claim to the work done by photographers or anyone else who would claim to control a piece because they held a lamp to light a shoot)

    "Establish a pan-Institutional policy for sharing and using the Smithsonian’s digital content". In other words, the content is there, the hurdle is Doing something with it.

    Bravo Smithsonian.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 9:34pm

    Re: Re:Government

    The Smithsonian is government and publicly funded. Copyright cannot be claimed on government work because work performed is done as a service to the public- supposedly...

    In general if you are working for the government the public has full rights to anything you produce unless there is a reason to lock it down for national security or similar reasons. Any FOIA request should grant rights to publicly funded materials...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Frosty840, Aug 7th, 2009 @ 3:49am

    With the caveat that I'm not absolutely sure of my facts, here, I have to admit a certain amount of sympathy with the National Gallery here, in that the images that have been released are (as I understand it) of sufficiently high quality to be used for commercial purposes along the lines of:
    "Hey, did you want to use a picture of this artwork in some advertising? Well, we've already photographed everything in the museum, so there's no need for you to go to the time and effort of producing your own photos. Here's a non-commercial-resolution version of the image in question, what do you think?"

    I agree that lower-resolution versions of the photos should absolutely be public domain, but had this action been taken against some independent photog, working out of a stock images site, people would be up in arms in defense of the photog. I see the two cases as similar enough that the lack of sympathy for the museum rankles me somewhat.

    Again, not totally sure of my facts here, if someone can prove me wrong, I'll hop straight over to the other side of the argument.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Travis, Aug 7th, 2009 @ 8:41am


    If the Smithsonian pays to have the pictures taken then they should be public domain. The Smithsonian is owned by the US government and is funded by taxes and donations. All item created by the museum belong to the american people. (I believe thats actually in their charter, but don't know for sure.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Overtkill (profile), Aug 8th, 2009 @ 3:12pm


    Forward thinking is where you find it. The Smithsonian's view on this issue would greatly encourage *gasp* public education... :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    peter skirrow, Nov 30th, 2013 @ 3:39am

    Public paintings

    The issue of an institution having paid for the photographing of a painting is trivial, compared to the value of the painting, which may already be publicly owned. How much does it cost to digitise a painting professionally? £200, maybe £1000, but surely cheaper if many are done at once. Let users donate to pay this fee if necessary, but only up to the point where an image is paid for, at which point it becomes free to the public. No need to pay over and over again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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