The Digital Met Collection
May 20, 2014 8:58 AM   Subscribe

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's new Open Access for Scholarly Content now provides free access to almost 400,000 high-resolution digital images of public domain artworks from their collection (FAQ). From a database searchable by artist name/culture, date/era, location, etc., works by El Greco, Picasso, Rembrandt, Titian, and many, many more are available to view and download.
posted by Doktor Zed (13 comments total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
I read the title as Digital Meat Collection and now I'm disappointed.

Still pretty cool, i guess.
posted by murphy slaw at 9:03 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am interpreting this as a Good Omen.
posted by The Whelk at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, this is no joke. With the ability to zoom in deep, this is better than the real thing in some ways.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:07 AM on May 20, 2014

I read the title as Digital Meat Collection and now I'm disappointed.

Don't worry, they've got that covered too! (mmmm, tasty!)
posted by yoink at 9:08 AM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's a twitter bot for all of your serendipitous discovery needs.
posted by activitystory at 9:09 AM on May 20, 2014

I ranted about this a bit on Twitter yesterday after the announcement. Might as well rant on Metafilter too, right?

So I seriously love that the Met did this. I'm a proud member of the Met, and I'm thrilled that my membership dollars are going toward an initiative like this. Unfortunately, I think the whole thing is cheapened a bit by their "scholarly use only" requirement.

The artwork they're posting is all public domain, and there is almost no legal basis for a museum being allowed to limit these reproductions ("slavish reproductions" in the legal parlance, I believe) for certain uses. I get that museums—and indeed all public cultural institutions—need new sources of revenue, but these restrictions are completely arbitrary, erode the meaning of copyright, and are antithetical to the openness the whole initiative is supposed to be about.

This is a really great paper that articulates the point better than I can. In short, "Not only do these terms and conditions restrict uses, they also have dubious legal standing." This is another great post on the subject, as is this article which also gets into real-world implications.

The Met is almost certainly setting the example for smaller museums. To make this truly open would have been such a momentous move that might turn the tide toward open culture.
posted by cvp at 9:33 AM on May 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

cvp -- I had exactly the same visceral response to the, "public domain but only for these approved allowances." Is it possible that they are claiming propriety on not the artwork itself, but the photo taken of the artwork? Still sucks, but more legitimate, perhaps.
posted by garisimo at 9:42 AM on May 20, 2014

The press release's formal-sounding "for scholarly use" language rubbed me the wrong way, too, cvp, but since the Met hasn't required any sign-up or registration, I didn't bother mentioning that in the FPP. Thank you for providing background links to the public domain/open culture issues it raises, though.

In the meantime, at least, the hi-rez JPGs are a regular click away, without the hassle of terms-of-service or fees that the Met used to impose. Baby steps, one hopes.
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:45 AM on May 20, 2014

garisimo - I think that's their logic behind the claim, but there's still no legal basis. From that paper I linked to above (p. 273):
Faced with whether Bridgeman had grounds to restrict use of its images, the court ruled that no new copyright was created when Bridgeman made an exact photographic replication of an artwork in the public domain.

The court reasoned that the reproductions lacked originality; the entire point of Bridgeman's efforts was to replicate as closely as possible the orig­inal works of art. The court recognized that quality reproductions demand substantial technical skill and labor, but hard work does not qualify for copyright protection. Copyright law protects originality. The court also concluded that a change in the medium of a work - from, for example, an original oil painting to a photographic image - did not constitute origi­nality for purposes of copyright protection. In broad language, the court made this determination about copyrightability of the reproductions:
In this case, plaintiff by its own admission has labored to create 'slavish copies' of public domain works of art. While it may be assumed that this required both skill and effort, there was no spark of originality - indeed, the point of the exer­cise was to reproduce the underlying works with absolute fidelity. Copyright is not available in these circumstances.
(Citations are in the paper.)

And toward the bottom of page 274:
While Bridgeman was a ruling from one district court with jurisdiction in only part of New York State, its principles were adopted in 2008 by an appellate court with much greater legal jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled in Meshwerks, Inc. v Toyota Motor Sales US.A., Inc. that digital images of the basic design of existing automobiles did not have copyright protec­tion. Again, the court noted that the creators of the images were striving to depict precisely an existing shape - converting a three-dimensional original to a two-dimensional image. The court emphasized that the plaintiff's purpose was to capture as accurately as possible the shapes of the vehicles. The court also looked for any original contributions and found none:
[T]he facts in this case unambiguously show that Meshwerks did not make any decisions regarding lighting, shading, the background in front of which a vehicle would be posed, the angle at which to pose it, or the like - in short, its models reflect none of the decisions that can make depictions of things or facts in the world, whether Oscar Wilde or a Toyota Camry, new expressions subject to copyright protection.
posted by cvp at 9:50 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

One final comment and I'll stop threadsitting...

A really great example of how you can do this right is the Rijksmuseum, which not only offers their public domain work for free sans-restrictions, but also has an awesome public API you can use to do cool things with the art and art metadata. The API is a bonus, and an awesome example of a museum truly embracing tech.

Also this quote from Taco Dibbits (great name) is a winner (via):
If they want to have a Vermeer on their toilet paper, I’d rather have a very high-quality image of Vermeer on toilet paper than a very bad reproduction.
posted by cvp at 9:58 AM on May 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Although I am not especially scholarly about art, I do love it and I love looking at these. I'm on the West Coast and I'm happy to have any access to these works at all.
posted by chatongriffes at 10:09 AM on May 20, 2014

Many of the photographs are of items that are in storerooms and not on view in the museum. The Met has only a small gallery dedicated to Mesoamerican art (my interest), yet it is obvious from these photos that they have a much larger collection than that.

I have mixed feelings about copyright of photos of out of copyright artworks. It certainly would make my life a lot easier if I could not worry about copyright on the I want to use. I have spent hours searching the copyright renewal records to see if a particular work was out of copyright so I could use it in a quasi-commercial work (I charge money, but it is uncertain whether I'll ever make a profit.) On the other hand, if I take a photo of an ancient item in a museum and put it on a web site, can someone else take it and use it in their own commercial work? I like having some say in how my photo is used.

I think the real problem is that the term for copyright is too long. If the Met had a 14 year copyright on those photos, I don't think anyone would have a problem. But as it stands, they have a 95 year copyright on those photos (should Bridgeman not be valid).
posted by Xoc at 12:03 PM on May 20, 2014

For those interested in Los Angeles, here are some items related to that city from the Met's archives.
posted by cell divide at 11:22 AM on May 21, 2014

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