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400,000 images released

Within the last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City announced that it was making 400,000 high-resolution digital images of works in its collections available on its website — free for non-commercial use.

Robert.E.LeeNo permissions required.

No fees charged.

And it will keep adding to the number of available images as it creates new digital files.1

The Museum has labeled this new open-availability program as Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC) and it looks on it as “a resource for students, educators, researchers, curators, academic publishers, non-commercial documentary filmmakers, and others involved in scholarly or cultural work.”2

And what does it mean by scholarly content?

It defines that to include the “dissemination of ideas and knowledge derived from study or research for educational/cultural purposes.”3

And it goes on to give examples:

All school and academic work (including theses, dissertations, etc.), conference proceedings, journal articles, essays in Festschrifts, museum exhibition catalogues, non-commercially produced textbooks and educational materials, books published by university presses or the academic/scholarly imprint of commercial publishers, self-published books, and documentary films … in any media format (print, electronic, film, etc.).4

The Museum’s terms and conditions then provide that the images “may be downloaded for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws,” and credit must be given to “the author and source of such images,” including the museum’s URL “”5

Sounds an awful lot like what we do as genealogists, doesn’t it? Disseminating ideas and knowledge for educational and cultural purposes? Educational use? At a minimum, fair use?

As long as we’re not producing “commercially published general-interest books in print or electronic media; all products, merchandise, (including posters, calendars, notecards, datebooks, mugs, etc.), advertisements, or promotional materials for any services or products,”6 these images are ours to use.

So… only images marked with the OASC indicator qualify… and there’s one more question. See, this isn’t the usual archive we might be interested in. This is an art museum. Is there going to anything there we might be interested in?

The Legal Genealogist thinks so… like the image you see above, of General Robert E. Lee.

And you think maybe a genealogist might be able to use this one? Say, a genealogist like me, whose ancestor made this crossing?


Emanual Leutze, “Washington Crossing the Delaware” (1851)7

Or this one, for a family that owned one of these?


Thomas Chippendale, Two Couches, c 1753-548


I thought so too.

Images free to use, for scholarly content.

Thank you, Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Image of Robert E. Lee: Mathew B. Brady, General Robert E. Lee, 1865; Gilman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (

  1. Metropolitan Museum Initiative Provides Free Access to 400,000 Digital Images,” Press Room, Metropolitan Museum of Art ( : accessed 19 May 2014).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., “Frequently Asked Questions: Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC),” Frequently Asked Questions.
  5. Ibid., “Terms and Conditions/Terms of Use,” Information.
  6. Frequently Asked Questions: Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC),” Frequently Asked Questions, Metropolitan Museum of Art ( : accessed 19 May 2014).
  7. Emanual Leutze, “Washington Crossing the Delaware” (1851); Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (
  8. Thomas Chippendale, Two Couches, c 1753-54, in Chippendale Drawings, Vol. I; from Rogers Fund, 1920, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (
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