With a CC0 license…

February was Black History Month. March is Women’s History Month. And 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

So The Legal Genealogist chooses these images to illustrate the confluence of events:

voter flyer

Voter registration flyer, 1956, San Francisco Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)

Smith sisters

Abolitionist suffragist sisters Abby Hadassah Smith and Julia Evelina Smith of Connecticut, c1877

Why these two in particular?

Because they are part of a remarkable collection of roughly 2.8 million images just released for public use, free of copyright constraints, by the Smithsonian.

The announcement of the release came last week: Smithsonian Open Access, releasing 2.8 million 2D and 3D images and 173-years of staff-created data into the public domain1 — “where you can download, share, and reuse millions of the Smithsonian’s images—right now, without asking. With new platforms and tools, you have easier access to nearly 3 million 2D and 3D digital items from our collections—with many more to come. This includes images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo.”2

All of the recently-released items are under a CC0 license — the Creative Commons’ option to dedicate digital assets to the public domain. Under that license, “The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law. You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.”3 “This means the Smithsonian dedicates the digital asset into the public domain, meaning it is free of copyright restrictions and you can use it for any purpose, free of charge, without further permission from the Smithsonian. As new images are digitized, if they are determined to be copyright-free, the Smithsonian will dedicate them as CC0 ongoing.”4

Of course not everything held by the Smithsonian is available under this new program. There are holdings that aren’t digitized, where copyright can’t be waived, or where the item itself isn’t owned by the Smithsonian but is only loaned to it.5

Finding CC0 materials on the Open Access site is as easy as entering a search term in the search box. Searching for women, for example, returned 16,634 items all with open access pre-checked. For more options, the Collections Search Center has advanced filtering options — just be sure when you get results that you check the box for “Only return results with CC0 media”.

Having access to so many treasures of the Smithsonian free of copyright constraints is a wonderful move forward — one we can all hope more museums and repositories follow.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Treasures of the Smithsonian,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 5 March 2020).


  1. Effie Kapsalis, “21st-Century Diffusion with Smithsonian Open Access,” Smithsonian Open Access (https://www.si.edu/openaccess : accessed 5 Mar 2020).
  2. About Open Access,” Smithsonian Open Access (https://www.si.edu/openaccess : accessed 5 Mar 2020).
  3. CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)
    Public Domain Dedication
    ,” CreativeCommons.org (https://creativecommons.org/ : accessed 5 Mar 2020).
  4. See “FAQ: What is open access?,” Smithsonian Open Access (https://www.si.edu/openaccess : accessed 5 Mar 2020).
  5. See generally ibid., “FAQ: What is not included in Smithsonian Open Access?
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