Smithsonian Open Access: Open Educational Images (and a little bit about copyright)

Have you ever desperately needed the 3-D printed hands of Abraham Lincoln or a mammoth skeleton, but just couldn’t find the right file?

Good news, everyone– the Smithsonian has released over 2.8 million images (high resolution, 2- and 3-D) from across its 19 museums and institutions into the public domain under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, meaning they are available for anyone to “copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.” 

What does  a CC0 license have to do with Open Education Week? 

Joining other cultural institutions that have already provided high resolution images of their collection under a CC0 license, the Smithsonian is allowing a more equal access to these resources. Individuals are able to engage with them under the 5 Rs: Reuse, Revise, Remix, Redistribute, Retain. Instructors can bring these resources into their instruction without worrying about copyright issues and students can use them for projects, including remixes (still give credit– it’s good form!). 

What do you mean, “without worrying about copyright”?

Copyright is a limited right to control how other people can use your creative work, whether you wrote a paper, painted a picture, recorded a song, etc. U.S. copyright law governs specifically what other people can do with your creative works.

If you are an instructor or a student, copyright becomes important when you are “other people”; that is, copyright restricts what you’re allowed to do with a work you didn’t create. Fortunately, “fair use” lets educators have more rights in using copyrighted works than non-educators have. (See the library’s Copyright Guidelines Research Guide for more information about fair use.)

What makes the Smithsonian’s image collection special is the CC0 license. A CC0 license replaces copyright. It means that you are free to do whatever you want to with the images.

About Meredith Lewis

Meredith is a librarian at Durham Tech on both the Main and Orange County Campuses.