Metropolitan’s Scholars’ License

I had a chat with Susan Chun of the Metropolitan Museum a couple of weeks ago, and she told me how their 3 year investigation into procuring a digital asset management system (they wound up purchasing Interwoven’s MediaBin) instigated a lot of change within the museum. For instance, the prospect of having a sophisticated system to manage digital assets made the Met look at cataloguing with new eyes, and they decided that they needed more metadata geared towards efficiently retrieving images – hence the STEVE project, a collaborative exploration of how museums could employ user supplied tags for searching.

How to distribute digital images widely, and especially allow them to saturate the academic sphere, became another discussion triggered by the impending DAMS installation. Susan recently announced the result of the Met’s efforts at the annual VRA conference in Baltimore, and since I couldn’t be there, she kindly shared some of the documents about what the Met short-hands as the “scholar’s license.” In the first phase of this project, the Met will make about 2,000 images available free of charge for scholarly publication. For now, the images will be distributed through ARTstor, but the Met hopes to interest other distributors as well. According to Susan, the license itself is very similar to a Creative Commons attribution, non commercial, no derivatives license – however, they modified the language to allow print-publications issued by a commercial press.

The panel on which Susan first went public with this information also featured Ken Hamma, and I think it is helpful to place the Met’s initiative in the context of Ken’s effort to make museums aware of how it serves their mission to freely share digital images of public domain artworks (more on this at hangingtogether here, here and here). To me, these approaches are complimentary and synergistic– they share the same fundamental goal of making more digital images from the museum domain available to the scholarly enterprise, yet they offer different paths towards that goal. Ken’s approach consciously breaks with the idea of requiring any license at all, and presents a compelling vision of where the community could go if it dared to. The Met’s licensed version of sharing looks like the kind of compromise museums may crave before taking the next step towards the more unfettered distribution of images Ken envisions. I hope both efforts continue to receive the thoughtful discussion they deserve, and move the community as a whole towards the realization that sharing content more freely will increase, not diminish, museums’ relevance and standing in today’s information society.