BY ELIZABETH HERITAGE
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has now made nearly forty thousand images freely downloadable from its Collections Online digital database, giving the public access to the highest-resolution images it can and opening the way for creative reuse.
Around twenty thousand of these images are ‘No Known Copyright’ but upwards of seventeen thousand have been licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND) licence. “This is just the start”, says Rights Advisor Victoria Leachman. “We’re constantly improving our database, constantly collecting, constantly digitising. At launch we released thirty thousand and we aim to make another fifteen thousand images available for download by the end of this financial year.” Releasing images of the collection for download is now a core part of the workflow of copyright assessment for Victoria. “It’s no longer a one-off project. It’s now a business-as-usual activity and providing the highest-resolution image file we can means much wider scope for potential reuse.”
Te Papa’s engagement with issues of copyright, licensing and openness has been a long process and will continue to evolve. “We need to keep finding a balance between making images freely available and reuseable to benefit the public good and ensuring cost recovery so we astutely manage our taxpayer funding to help keep the museum going,” says Victoria. “We will continue to respond as Creative Commons grows as a movement within New Zealand.”
Victoria’s philosophy throughout has been one of incremental change: “let’s iterate!” She says “GLAM professionals tend to be completists, even perfectionists, and this isn’t a project you’re ever going to be able to ‘finish’. One of the big messages I’m always trying to get across is to start with what you can do now, at the foot of the mountain. Don’t worry about what’s at the top. It might get solved as you go and, if it doesn’t, you can better concentrate on solving it when you get there.”
The project’s launch in June 2014 generated a lot of positive feedback for Te Papa, both nationally and internationally. There was a significant visitation spike to the Collections Online site. Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chris Finlayson has recognised Te Papa’s efforts and said: “These images from the national collection are a fantastic resource for New Zealanders. The Government’s Open Access Licensing Framework cuts red tape, allowing the public to share and enjoy these thousands of images freely, as well as making them more readily available for use by professionals in the education, historical, cultural, and creative sectors.”
“Another benefit of this work is the internal efficiency savings.” Victoria noted that Collections Online is used heavily by Te Papa’s own staff, and the new, clearer copyright and open licensing statements mean less confusion, less worry about inadvertently doing something illegal, and significantly less time taken up processing rights requests and queries. “Staff can cut straight through the necessary copyright bureaucracy and just do it themselves, if they need an image for a sign, say, or an e-newsletter.”
But of course the main benefit is the creative and collaborative potential that freely available public domain or out-of-copyright and CC-licensed works bestow. One example close to home is the creation of a new artwork for the Ngā Toi Arts Te Papa exhibition: “Knowledge on a beam of starlight”, a vinyl work by Kerry Ann Lee using found images. With Te Papa’s permission Lee used images downloaded from Collections Online in her artwork.
So what’s next for Creative Commons at Te Papa? “Now we need to analyse the results so far, so that we can keep improving.” Victoria wants to learn how people are using the images, and what effect the freely downloadable content is having on Te Papa’s image licensing business. She is also very focussed on spreading the word, and making sure that Kiwis know that their cultural treasures are emerging into the free digital domain. “Creative Commons is still really early days in New Zealand. We want people to know what’s available and how they can use these incredible treasures.”