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J. Paul Getty Museum opens up its collections of images

"The trend is toward freer access to information," says the J. Paul Getty Museum, which has just announced that it will make its collections of digital images free to use. Olivier Laurent speaks with Getty's president and CEO Jim Cuno

The J. Paul Getty Museum, which collects works of art including paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculptures and photographs, is making its collections of digital images available for all uses without charge, marking a radical shift in its long-standing policy of charging for commercial use of its work.

As a result, more than 4600 high-resolution images representing 4,689 objects will be download-able for academic and commercial use without restrictions. The J. Paul Getty Trust, which runs the museum, plans to add other images, until eventually all applicable Getty-owned or public domain images are available, without restrictions, online,” says the museum.

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“The Getty Trust was established 30 years ago on the instructions of our founder to diffuse and disseminate artistic and general knowledge,” Getty’s president and CEO Jim Cuno tells BJP. “That’s the only instructions he gave before his death. We feel one way that we could meet [his wish] was by making available broadly and for no charge images of objects in our collections in the spirit of disseminating them as artistic knowledge. It just seemed the right time to do it.”

In the past, Getty’s images could be used free of charge in scholarly and academic contexts, while commercial usage was tightly restricted and incurred a fee. “Then we realised that it was just impossible to police the world wide web for improper use of our images,” says Cuno. “If they are going to be used, we’d rather they be used at the highest level of reproductive quality and with accurate information attached to the image. It’s both in keeping with the instructions of our founders and in recognition that the world has moved on with the internet. We need to focus more on caring for the quality and accuracy of our images and not on policing the use of these images.”

He continues: “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.”

From now on, third-parties interested in using some of Getty’s images will just have to provide information about the intended use but won’t face restrictions, the museum assured. “The world has changed, and we welcome that because we want to disseminate broadly our artistic assets. We want to share it with the world. We believe in the good work that we do and in the quality of the information we attach to it, and we want that to be available to people so they can be inspired and informed,” says Cuno, who adds that various museums, institutions and universities in the US have been moving in that direction. “In fact, universities are, in many respect, leading the way and the government is encouraging this by making it a prerequisite for any institution that receives funding for research that they make available the results of that research – free of charge.”

The J. Paul Getty Museum is also looking to apply these rules to more of its photographic collections. “Every time that we make an acquisition or when we receive archives, we ask for the rights to disseminate them,” says Cuno. “Sometimes we get them, and sometimes we don’t of course, but we’re pursuing it. We just hope that it will inspire others to do as we’re doing. The photography industry has always been a complicated sector because the image itself is reproducible, so controlling where that image appears might not be possible in the future.”

Visit www.getty.edu.