Open Access at the Cleveland Museum of Art
When I first saw this image on the Cleveland Museum of Art’s website, I thought to myself – wouldn’t this make great wallpaper? With their Open Access policy, if I want to try to make a card, or fabric or wallpaper – I can!
And then I wanted to learn a little more about the actual work. Looking more closely at the image information, I could see it was from the 10th century. It made me curious – what was the significance of the repeated pattern?
I started a search to get more information, and found a post by The Met discussing figural representation and ornamental patterns in Islamic Art.
But I was surprised by other results, including finding the image from the Cleveland Museum of Art on the stock photo site Alamy – listed for personal use at a price of $19.99 and expanded professional use for $199.99. If you download it directly from Cleveland – it’s free.
Sadly, Alamy’s image record appeared at the top of the results, with Cleveland’s page showing up far down the list. I recognized the fragment as part of Cleveland’s collection because I was focused on that specific work – there was no mention of Cleveland on the Alamy record. After a few quick comparisons between the two sites I could see that more than the rabbits were added to Alamy.
How is this possible you might ask?
API Access to Images and Metadata
With the launch of Cleveland’s Open Access Collection, they also released their API. This allows developers to do a call to pull all images and data at once from Cleveland’s database.
API’s are powerful and helpful, especially when you want to create new applications using tens of thousands of records. (Imagine if you are trying to combine databases and you had to download images and records one by one. You probably would be deterred from it because it would take so long!)
Adding images from the Cleveland Museum of Art to Alamy isn’t against the rules per se, as the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license applied by Cleveland allows any use – including commercial.
However, I think this goes against the spirit of the Open Access agreement. In releasing the image for unrestricted use, the intention is that researchers, creatives and developers will make something new using this deep collection – adding more value, and generating greater visibility for the art and the museum.
No changes or improvements have been made to the original file – other than the addition of an Alamy watermark, and perhaps some additional keywords that are applied when files are uploaded and mapped to their search taxonomy. No credit is given to the owner of the work – the museum that originally released the files.
Embrace the Spirit of Open Access
I believe that when working with images of art, it is critical to try to get to the original source – the owner that cares for the object. That could be the creator, it could be a collector, or could be a museum.
Museums rely on donations and attendance to keep the money flowing to care for these historic works. When you’re working with art and historical objects, I encourage you to verify the original source, credit the institution that shares these works, and give back. Create new things, spread the collection so awareness grows, and if you can – share a portion of what you earn back to the institution.
What comes around goes around.
A little about how this fragment came to be owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art
The credit on the Cleveland website indicates it was purchased through J.H. Wade Fund. The accession number is 1968.229, and based on the format I can deduce that it was acquired in 1968, and was the 229th object brought into the collection in that year.
J.H. Wade II was the grandson of Jeptha Homer Wade I, one of the founders of Western Union Telegraph Company. The Cleveland Museum of Art sits on land gifted to the city by the Wade family.
J.H. Wade II was one of the four founders of the museum. He donated many important collections of art to the museum, and established an endowment fund for art purchases.
He donated the very first object in their collection (it wasn’t this one!).
And I’m glad his fund made it possible for the museum to acquire and care for these rabbits, so we can enjoy them today.
Inspired early on by Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” Rachel creates products and initiatives to make art more accessible through technology. After completing a masters in art history at the University of Texas at Austin, she joined Corbis Images where she developed image licensing programs for education, mobile and consumer goods for more than 10 years. Subsequently she began experimenting with publishing open access images from cultural heritage in educational and commercial products. She now leads product strategy at CultureTech in their mission to open up art. Together with CultureTech, Tulane Law School, and several museums, she is currently researching how blockchain technology can connect art owners, rights holders and admirers – to make it easier to find, license, use, and re-mix art through the ages.