Monday, August 13, 2012

How to obtain free images from the National Portrait Gallery

Thomas Girtin by John Opie
oil on canvas, circa 1800 (NPG 882)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Creative Commons License

Today the National Portrait Gallery in London has announced a change in its licensing arrangements for images needed for academic or non-commercial purposes.  In future it will be possible to download images, which are out of copyright, for free.

I've been campaigning behind the scenes for years to get the major museums to make their collections more accessible to those who want to study images and publish them for non-commercial purposes.  I've written more than a few emails in my time to explain why stated licensing arrangements were a nonsense - particularly in respect of publicly funded art galleries and museums which have educational objectives!  I've explained at length why the processes required for the commercial print exploitation of high resolution images are neither relevant nor appropriate for low resolution images needed for academic study or personal use.  It has felt rather like hitting one's head against a brick wall at times!

One of the institutions which has been open to the notion that the approach to licensing needed to change is the National Portrait Gallery in London.

There has been movement over time - and I'm delighted to announce a major change which will hopefully prompt other major collections in the UK (and elsewhere) to do something similar.

Today, the National Portrait Gallery announced that it now enables those who need images for academic or non-commercial purposes to download a wide range of images for free.
Over 53,000 low-resolution images will now be available free of charge to non-commercial users through a standard ‘Creative Commons’ licence and over 87,000 high-resolution images will also be available free of charge for academic use through the Gallery’s own licences.
This new provision only applies to those images which are out of copyright.  Those which are still subject to copyright still require permission to be sought from the artist or the artist's estate.

Below I explain how to access and download images using the new automated licensing process

The NPG's Digital Portrait Collection

The Gallery’s mission is summarised as
‘to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and ... to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media’
This major change in licensing terms has occurred partly because of the work undertaken by the Gallery to digitise more than 100,000 portraits - paintings, photographs, drawings, prints and sculptures  - in the  Gallery’s Collection.

The NPG has been working on this project since 1997!  The Gallery was among the first UK institutions to make images from their collection available as a digital image within a searchable database.  This in turn enabled the Gallery to license its enormous asset base which in turn enables it to generate some £5.5 million which was reinvested in the Gallery's work.

Not all of the portraits in the Collections have yet been scanned, and some are subject to copyright restrictions.  Charges and restrictions will still apply to accessing some images, as well as to the commercial use of ALL images. Funds raised by image licensing activity contribute towards further digitisation.

A new licensing process 

The major stumbling blocks associated with the existing licensing processes used by many major art galleries and museums are:
  1. they are far too slow
  2. they fail to recognise the various media now used to share images and educate online
What the NPG has done is to create a new automated licensing process which greatly speeds up the process for all those with an academic and/or non-commercial use in mind.  The Gallery will monitor the use of each transaction to prevent potential abuse of the system and preserve the important revenue achieved from commercial image licensing.

How to access the download and license an image for FREE

In order to access an image and then license and download it, this is what you need to do
  • Search the collection for the image you want
  • Click the link which says "Use this image"
  • Note carefully whether or not it is out of copyright.  If it is out of copyright then the page wil look like the one show below.  Note that three licenses are offered as options:
    • Professional licence
    • Academic licence
    • Creative Commons
  • Read about what is on offer:  The Creative Commons Licence offers the following benefits and restrictions
What is this?
Image licence and download forlimited non-commercial use. Image sizes are 800 pixels on the longest dimension at 72 dpi.
What can I use the image for?
Use in non-commercial, amateur projects (e.g. blogs, local societies and family history).
  • Make a donation if you think this appropriate.  Bear in mind that digitisation is not cheap and the facility exists because of the funds generated by the project
  • Agree to the conditions: Tick to indicate that you have read and agree to the full agreement terms and conditions which is a creative commons licence which requires you to:
    • attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor 
    • not use this work for commercial purposes
    • not alter, transform, or build upon this work
    • provide a link to the web page which cites the creative commons licence
  • Provide your email address - below is the explanation of why they need this
We make images available for non-commercial use and need to monitor this service, to see how well it is appreciated, to make sure it is not abused, to see which images are of interest to users and to understand how we can develop the service further.

Image not covered by copyright and available for download
Screenshot of the webpage relating to the portrait in oils of Tom Girtin by John Opie
Note the three different licenses - Professional (commercial), Academic and Creative Commons

"Here's one I prepared earlier"

Being very Blue Peterish about this I had a go (to identify the process outlined above!).  Below you can see the result.  My choice was determined by the fact I'm rather partial to paintings of artists by other artists - plus I'd never seen a portrait of Tom Girtin (18 February 1775 – 9 November 1802) the famous English watercolour painter of the nineteenth century of whom Turner said on hearing of Girtin's early death at the age of 27.
“Poor Tom……..If Tom Girtin had lived, I should have starved.”
So I searched the collection for Thomas Girtin and found this page.  I then downloaded the image using the Creative Commons facility.  I got an image which is 668 x 800 pixels and 82kb which I think means it's probably about 60 dpi.

The image is actually larger than I need for this blog so I've resized it on Blogger using the image functionality to "Extra Large" which as it happens is smaller than the "Original Size".  If you right click the image and open it in a separate tab you'll see the size of the image which has been made available using the Creative Commons process.

Note how I have then attributed it using a Blogger caption for the image
  • I've linked to the page where I licensed it in the title; 
  • copied the official title and details from the collection caption and then 
  • included a link to the Creative Commons licence below this.
One more matter to address

Rights and images is the web page which explains the National Portrait Gallery's approach on intellectual property, copyright and licensing as this relates to commercial usage.

It appears that the website has not yet caught up with a similar summary page relating to the academic and creative commons licences it is now granting - and I'll be pleased to highlight this page as and when it's created!

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