The National Gallery of Art and its free resource NGA Images
Just as I was wondering if I was on a futile journey to find works of fine art, that were not only Public Domain, but were truly legally available to use freely online, commercially, internationally, without complications, a big announcement has been made in the world of art and copyright. Less than a week before writing this article, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC launched its new site "NGA Images". Anyone like myself, who is pedantic enough and square enough to want to keep totally on the right side of copyright law, but have good access to works of art in the spirit that "Public Domain" implies, will be equally as joyous about this message and its implications.
I'm about to do something on a Hub that I wasn't sure until now I would ever be able to do. Here goes:
It's a Turner!
and what's this?
It's a Gauguin!
and oh my goodness
It's only a van Gogh!
The database contains those paintings from the gallery's collection, that are now in the public domain for countries, like the States, who have a seventy year copyright law. If you want to err on the side of caution (for all my reading I'm not yet sure how the fact that some countries have a longer copyright period - of up to 100 years, affects use on the internet) then leave a hundred years after the death of the artist, and you absolutely, positively can't go wrong. No disclaimers here. No exceptions. No further small print that you have to read, or anything that you need to take mine or anyone else's word for. If the artist died one hundred years or more ago, then you may download and use these images without having to worry at all. You may choose to use the seventy years since death ones too, and this may well be okay, but as I say I'm not quite certain about what the difference is yet. I'll update this article if and when this becomes clear.
Is it time for another picture?
Right, we haven't had a picture since 187 words ago. Let's not hold back, I feel like a kid in the NGA candy shop. Here's a look at something a bit different from the collection. There are lots of drawings and engravings by eminent artists too:
A bit of Dürer
What about Wiki?
Not even Wikimedia Commons (amazing resource as it is when used correctly) is this easy to use, because of the gray areas of copyright law that they have taken a "position" on, and the resulting disclaimers they have, which get more and more complex the deeper you read through them. They have also been legally challenged, especially by the National Portrait Gallery in London, for using material that is not out of copyright under UK (and other) laws.
What the NGA has done is a big deal in the online art world.
What NGA Images is
A collection of over 20,000 downloadable "open access" files of world class paintings (825 currently available), drawings (3,161) photographs (260), an amazing number of mostly very beautiful prints (15,527), as well as a few more bits and pieces - coins and so on. You will not find more prominent names here from the world of art history, as the pictures here have been chosen to exemplify.
What's special about this, is that whilst these works are in the Public Domain, most galleries claim copyright on their electronic images of their Public Domain works. That's what's different here - the NGA is making its electronic images freely available to use.
What NGA images is not
The images available are all ones that the NGA owns, of works in their own collection. Therefore you will not find images of works here that are owned by other galleries, or to which NGA does not hold the entire rights.
So where's the party happening?
Here it is:
It's an enormous database, but NGA Images has edited together a few "collections" which are a good starting point to get a sense of the calibre of art here. Here's one of them:
I saved about $1000 today
I think it's worth mentioning that prior to this move, the going rate for licensing five images of this quality and size, for international use online, would have probably exceeded US$1000 per year. Whilst that may be appropriate for a company's permanent website for instance, obviously that was never going to make sense for an online article like this.
Now we get them for free.
In the meantime, I for one already have a big smile on my face right now. What shall we finish off with? Let's bring out the big guns. How about a Leonardo?
Ginevra de' Benci - she's the only Leonardo in the Americas
Do you think you will download and use pictures from NGA Images?
Other Articles on Art and Copyright
The Mona Lisa still isn't up for grabs, because she is not owned by the National Gallery of Art, but by The Louvre in Paris. But who knows where the NGA's decision to share its toys might lead in influencing other galleries? In the meantime, the following still applies to the intricacies of art copyright:
I heard about the NGA decision just as I was about to give up on ever finding a single organisation or artist where the copyright situation was completely transparent.