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The Smithsonian Just Released 2.8 Million Images Into the Public Domain

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The Smithsonian just made a public domain contribution that it’s calling “unprecedented in both depth and breadth.” In one fell swoop, the institution is adding over 2.8 million images to an online platform called Open Access, where you can browse and download images for free.

While other world-famous museums have digitized and released large parts of their collections into the public domain in the past, nobody has done it in such a dramatic fashion.

Open Access gives the public free and easy access to over 2.8 million 2D and 3D images from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, with no restrictions on how you can use, alter, or reuse the images. The Smithsonian Magazine itself said the platform encourages users to “transform [the images] into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.”

Of course, not all of the nearly 3 million images are of photographs—the collection includes images of artifacts, paintings, and specimens, as well as over 2,000 3D models including several fossils and the Apollo 11 command module—but there are thousands of historical photographs in the Smithsonian’s collections as well, particularly from the archives of the National Portrait Gallery.

A cursory search of the Open Access database shows over 10,000 results for “photograph.”

And this, says the Smithsonian, is only the beginning. As the institution continues to digitize more of its massive collection, approximately 200,000 more images will be added to the Open Access platform (and the public domain) in 2020.

To learn more about Open Access and this massive increase in the amount of imagery available in the Public Domain, head over to the official announcement or go browse the platform for yourself.


Image credits: Photo courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Larry J. West, CC0

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