Sites with Easy Access to Image Rights


ARTstor is an online image library with more than one million images of the visual arts, humanities and social sciences, contributed by museums, archives, artists and scholars. Users can browse in a number of different fields, or search by keyword or by using advanced filters. Image quality is generally excellent, with high-resolution jpegs available for virtually all images. Note that searching for “IAP” alongside keywords will return images that have been designated by their contributor (primarily the Met) as freely publishable for academic purposes.

American Memory

American Memory is an aggregation of more than 9 million transcriptions, audio files, and still and moving images from the Library of Congress and other institutions, all documenting the American experience. The material is grouped into more than 100 collections browsable by topic (maps, religion), LC subject headings (i.e. Posters, Haymarket Affair), or by title (i.e. “African American Odyssey” or “The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920”). The metadata is excellent throughout and images range from good to excellent, with some even offered as high resolution TIFFs.

British Museum

Of the British Museum’s more than 7 million objects, 2 million have been catalogued, and of those nearly 500,000 objects have at least one digital image available online. The Museum’s collection covers the history of human activity, with objects representing ancient Europe, ancient Greece and Rome, and virtually all non-Western cultures from their pre-history to present. The Museum makes all of its digital images freely available for educational use, including limited-run academic publishing, and while the readily available digital images are quite good, it also has a registration-based system wherein users can request that ultra-high quality renditions be sent to them by e-mail.

Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art makes available more than 23,000 digital images representing objects from its collection. The museum’s holdings span the range of visual and material culture and include works from virtually all cultures and periods of human production. Images are searchable by keyword or using advanced parameters, and available images are of good quality. Also of note, the museum makes requesting the rights to reproduce images fairly straightforward, with an online form linked from each catalog entry.


Flickr is an image hosting and sharing website which claims to host more than 4 billion digital images uploaded by its users. Though many of the images will have nothing to do with the decorative arts and material culture, there is a wealth of vacation photographs, book scans, etc. that may be of value. Being generated entirely by users the image quality will vary widely (though they’re often available as large JPEGs), as will the quality, extent and accuracy of metadata. Of note, all images have rights notices displayed, and some users have released their work for free use (including commercial use) under a creative commons license.

Flickr Commons

Flickr Commons offers cultural heritage institutions a centralized, easy-to-use site to host selections from their digitized collections, and in so doing facilitate much wider public access to these collections than might otherwise be possible. At present nearly forty institutions, American and international, contribute digital images to the Commons, with the Smithsonian, Brooklyn Museum, Getty, and Library of Congress being just a few of them. Metadata and image quality vary by institution and only limited search options are available, but users can browse by tag or by contributing institutions (which often create thematic image groups).

Google Patents

Google, in cooperation with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, makes available for full-text searching approximately 7 million patents and 1 million patent applications. Patents are available to view in their original form, which can also be downloaded in PDF format, and many patents include accompanying documentary drawings. Users can search for patents using keywords or advanced options. Thanks to Tom in the library for finding this.

Library of Congress, Online Catalog of the Prints and Photographs Division

The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress holds a massive collection of printed and photographed materials, 75% of which is cataloged and a substantial portion of that for which digital images are available. Objects span the fullest range of subject matter and so the collection has a wide potential relevance. Users can browse specific collections (i.e. National Child Labor Committee Collection, British Cartoons), or find images using the limited search options. Metadata is excellent throughout and the catalog interoperates with the Library’s Thesaurus of Geographic Material (TGM, see thesauri). Images are another high point: all that can be made available are (some have copyright restrictions or have not yet been scanned), and are available as excellent quality JPEGs and uncompressed archival TIFFs.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the United States’ preeminent art museum and holds more than 2 million works of art representing all periods, cultures, and manners of human creative production, and the Museum’s online database features more than 130,000 digital images of these works. Metadata is thorough throughout, and users can find images by browsing curatorial departments, or by using keyword or advanced searches. While image quality is good for all objects, keep in mind that many (though not all) are available as higher resolution JPEGs through ARTstor, and many of these are made available to publish for academic purposes for free.

New York Public Library Digital Gallery

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 700,000 images digitized from the New York Public Library's vast collections, and include illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, posters, prints, photographs and more. The subject matter extends far beyond New York City, giving this resource wide potential relevance. Users can search for materials using basic and advanced options, or by browsing by subject. The Library has also grouped images to form collections, for example “Ornament and Pattern: Pre-Victorian Art Deco” and “Vintage Holiday Postcards”. Images are of very good quality, non-commercial uses are encouraged, and it’s easy to acquire rights and high-quality TIFFs for publishing.

Smithsonian Archives Image Gallery

The Smithsonian Archives Image Gallery offers a single interface for the browsing and searching of the vast holdings of the Smithsonian’s many sub-institutions, including the National Museum of the American Indian, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and National Anthropological Archives. Users can browse by sub-institution, subjects, or object types, or access images using keyword searching. A variety of media types are available, including very good quality still and moving images, sound files, transcriptions, etc., and users can limit searches by media type.

Victoria And Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum, a UK based institution dedicated to the decorative arts and material culture, makes a substantial portion of its collection available in digital format through its online image database. The database has more than 1 million entries, with metadata and image quality varying from record to record. The search functionality allows users to restrict results to only the highest quality records, and other search and browse features are both extensive and intuitive. The V&A also makes acquiring image rights and high quality digital files extremely easy (and when possible free) by incorporating “shopping cart” style ordering into the site.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons hosts more than 6 million media files contributed to the site by users. Images range across all subjects, time periods and geographic regions and, because users contribute them, will necessarily vary in their quality and the extent of their metadata. Virtually all images made available through Wikimedia Commons (though not necessarily Wikipedia) may be freely re-used without the granting of individual permissions, though copyright information is supplied by contributors and should be verified if you choose to publish or publicly display any provided media.

Wikimedia Free Image Resources

Wikimedia’s Free Image Resources page features links to sites exclusively or primarily hosting freely usable digital images. These links are categorized by subject and briefly described. While similar in form and concept to Wikimedia's Public Domain Image Resources page the links themselves are generally unique.

Wikimedia Public Domain Image Resources   

Wikimedia’s Public Domain Image Resources page features links to sites exclusively or primarily hosting public domain digital images. These links are categorized by subject and briefly described. While similar in form and concept to Wikimedia's Free Image Resources page the links themselves are generally unique.

Back to top