Getty Open Content Program

Photo by Carleton Watkins. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

When my husband and I were dating several years ago, we were dirt poor students in Los Angeles. Our “dates” consisted of staying in to watch movies or finding something free to do in the city. We frequented the Getty Museum. Admission is free to the public and to this day it’s one of my favorite places to visit.

Unfortunately, I now live over a thousand miles away from this amazing art collection, which includes Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and decorative arts, and photographs gathered internationally, so I don’t get the opportunity to visit often.

I was really delighted to hear that earlier this week, Getty President and CEO Jim Cuno announced The Getty was lifting restrictions on the use of images to which the Getty holds all the rights or are in the public domain.

As of today, the Getty makes available, without charge, all available digital images to which the Getty holds all the rights or that are in the public domain to be used for any purpose,” wrote Cuno on August 12, citing the new program.

As a result, there are roughly 4,600 images from the J. Paul Getty Museum available in high resolution on the Getty’s website for use without restriction—representing 4,689 objects, including paintings, historic photographs and other works of art, sculpture and artifacts. The Getty plans to add other images, until eventually all applicable Getty-owned or public domain images are available, without restrictions, online.

“The Museum is delighted to make these images available as the first step in a Getty-wide move toward open content,” said J. Paul Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts. “The Getty’s collections are greatly in demand for publications, research and a variety of personal uses, and I am pleased that with this initiative they will be readily available on a global basis to anyone with Internet access.”

Previously, the Getty Museum made images available upon request, for a fee, and granted specific use permissions with terms and conditions. Now, while the Getty requests information about the intended use, it will not restrict use of available images, and no fees apply for any use of images made available for direct download on the website.

Many artists, including photographers, will wonder how this new policy will impact the value of their art. Since the intent of the open content program is to make only images owned by the Getty or already in the public domain available, I don’t believe this will negatively affect contemporary artists. Similar historical works are already available through other collections, like the United States Library of Congress.

The Getty was founded to promote ‘the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge’ of the visual arts, and this new program arises directly from that mission,” said Cuno. “In a world where, increasingly, the trend is toward freer access to more and more information and resources, it only makes sense to reduce barriers to the public to fully experience our collections.

“This is part of an ongoing effort to make the work of the Getty freely and universally available,” said Cuno.

I personally think having the Getty collection available for use without restriction, allowing the public more access to viewing fine art, is exciting. What do you think? Is free sharing a good or bad idea?