Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million Images Into Public Domain

Culture connoisseurs, rejoice: The Smithsonian Institution is inviting the world to engage with its vast repository of resources like never before.

For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.

And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.

“Being a relevant source for people who are learning around the world is key to our mission,” says Effie Kapsalis, who is heading up the effort as the Smithsonian’s senior digital program officer. “We can’t imagine what people are going to do with the collections. We’re prepared to be surprised.

Link to the rest at The Smithsonian

As PG has said before, cultural and scientific archives providing open access online with rights to do just about anything with the contents of the collection is a wonderful modern trend that has taken wing within the last several months.

Ralph Cross Johnson
The Girl I Left Behind Me
ca. 1872
The Girl I Left Behind Me, invoking an Irish ballad that was popular with both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.
Frederick Douglass
From The National Portrait Gallery
The Death of Cleopatra
by Edmonia Lewis
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Historical Society of Forest Park, Illinois
carved 1876

2 thoughts on “Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million Images Into Public Domain”

  1. … the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose …

    Does it? Then the new digital depot needs to go talk to their lawyers.

    According to the Terms of Use (, they have two types of content: “Creative Commons Zero” content, which you can’t use unless you track down any potential rights holders and get their permission, and “Usage Conditions Apply” content, which you can’t use unless you get express permission from the Smithsonian and any other rights holder.

    So this new collection is really cool, but if you want to use any of it in a book cover, you still have to track down rights holders, just like you do for anything else you find on the web. On the plus side, I bet the Smithsonian is really good at tracking the date and provenance of their images, which makes such research easier.

  2. The purpose of Museums is to maintain elements of history and make them available to the public.

    It’s good to see them extending this beyond their walls into the digital realm via images and models of their collections.

    As for the rights, the people creating the images should be doing it as ‘work for hire’ so the Museums have the full rights to distribute them.

    The vast majority of the works being depicted are LONG out of copyright, and for the others, first sale doctrine should cover them.

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