“For a growing number of museums, providing open access to online collections is seen as crucial to engaging with the public and serving their wider missions. While select institutions began exploring open access a decade ago, the practice is now becoming mainstream. In February, the Smithsonian released 2.8 million images of its collections for unrestricted public reuse. This spectacular announcement followed recent initiatives by the Cleveland Museum of Art, Paris Musées, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others. All are part of the Open GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) movement that advocates for liberal access to and reuse of public domain collections.
A key Open GLAM principle is that works in the public domain – meaning copyright has expired or never existed – should remain in the public domain once digitised. This may sound obvious but the reality is less straightforward. Copyright law in this area is complex and lacks international harmonisation….
The evidence from open access museums shows that foregone revenue from image licensing is generally outweighed by an increase in brand visibility and new opportunities for revenue generation. Adopting open access need not prevent museums from undertaking commercial partnerships….
Most museums lose more money than they make on image licensing….
In the UK, a small but growing number of institutions are responding to the call. The first to embrace open access was the National Library of Wales, which now employs a ‘National Wikimedian’ to develop collaborations and services that advance the representation of Wales and the Welsh language on Wikimedia projects. York Museums Trust releases the majority of its online images to the public domain. This year, Birmingham Museums sponsored an art remix contest with artist Coldwar Steve and the local creative community Black Hole Club, inviting the public to respond imaginatively using Birmingham’s open collections….
Open access can also be transformative inside heritage institutions. One year after the Cleveland Museum of Art’s open access launch, its chief digital information officer, Jane Alexander, noted the following impacts: increased updating of attribution, provenance and collections information; curators forging new connections with scholars; and resources being reallocated from responding to image requests to supporting digitisation. The vast majority of the museum’s online users who are looking for images now self-serve from its online collections, freeing up valuable staff time….”