Late last Friday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it has made 400,000 images of artworks in its collection available for free download — but the move comes with a major caveat: the images are only intended for noncommercial, scholarly use.
The new initiative, titled Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC), provides easy access to high-resolution images of hundreds of thousands of pieces in the Met’s collection that are believed to be in the public domain and free of copyright restrictions. Available files now have a small OASC marking underneath the image on its online collection page, as well as a download arrow. New images will be added “on a regular basis,” according to the press release.
But unlike the Getty Museum’s big image release last summer or the Wellcome Library’s earlier this year, both of which allow for commercial use, the Met images are meant for only scholarly use. The museum defines this as “scholarly publication in all media,” including:
All school and academic work … , conference proceedings, journal articles, essays in Festschrifts, museum exhibition catalogues, non-commercially produced textbooks and educational materials, books published by university presses or the academic/scholarly imprint of commercial publishers, self-published books, and documentary films.
That designation omits a wide swath of people, namely artists, writers, filmmakers, and any one else working commercially (e.g. this blogazine; I had to obtain special permission to use images for this post). And the exception is particularly frustrating given the copyright-free nature of the work in question — we’re not talking about the thornier questions that come with pictures of copyrighted contemporary art. The Met’s image release is a welcome and vital move towards encouraging fair use, but it’s more like a cautious tread than a full step.