The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Move to Open Collections Data

Image Background via Wikimedia Commons.

This week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced a new Open Access Policy, applying a CC0 license to collection data and 375,000+ images. As a marked win in the existing move toward open licenses in digital collections, this development is not only a turning point for open digital collections, but a shift toward open collections data.

In reviewing the Open Access Policy announced on February 7th which outlines use terms for both collection images and data, we see clear guidelines for the usage of open collections data, including:

“It also makes available data from the entire online collection―both works it believes to be in the public domain and those under copyright or other restrictions―including basic information such as title, artist, date, medium, and dimensions. This data is available to all in accordance with the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) designation.”


“The Museum dedicates select data of artworks in its collection―both works it believes to be in the public domain and those under copyright or other restrictions―to the public domain. You can download, share, modify, and distribute the data for any purpose, including commercial and noncommercial use, free of charge and without requiring permission from the Museum.

The completeness of each object record differs, as cataloguing is ongoing. Digital images are not included in the dataset.

The data is available as a Comma Separated Value (.CSV) file on GitHub, a web-based data repository and Internet hosting service. It is updated on a weekly basis.”

Reading the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new policy with attention to the terms surrounding open collections data, we see the following pieces of information:

  • A clearly communicated license for the collection data (CC0)
  • Indication of available data formats (.CSV)
  • Link to corresponding data repository (GitHub)

Here, we can see the primary pieces of what open collections data policies can look like in action.

An Open Road Well Traveled

As some have already pointed out, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is not the first institution to adopt a clear Open Access policy for their digital collections, and not the first to make a CC0 license part of that policy for images or data.

In 2015 the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) opened collections data under a CC0 license, and published that data in a GitHub repository.

In that same year, the Walters Art Museum released collection images and data under a CC0 license as an update to an existing open licensing policy for their collections enacted in 2012.

These two examples are not an exhaustive list of the number of institutions that have applied open access policies to digital collection content.

As we should celebrate the Metropolitan Museum of Art joining a league of institutions which account for collection data in their open access policies, we should also recognize the institutions who got the ball rolling.

Predictions Moving Forward

This development presents an opportunity to voice a small handful of predictions surrounding open access policies as they relate to digital collections, and more specifically, open collections data:

  1. With the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the most recent addition to the growing number of like institutions supporting open access policies, we should see the continued expansion of open policies and licensing terms within the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) sector.
  2. In the growing motion toward open access policies in this area, we may also see a greater move toward the CC0 license as indicated by this example and others (for example, the Walters Art Museum shifting from the more restrictive CC BY-SA license to CC0 in 2015).
  3. A growing number of institutions may make considerations for collection data when developing and adopting open access policies for their digital collections, using this applied case (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and others as an example.
  4. Similarly, institutions which already support open access policies for their digital collections may more strongly consider the inclusion of data under their policies.

Closing this week with this welcome news from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we should take their recently announced Open Access Policy as an opportunity to look at where we are with open collections data, where we’ve been, and where we may be going in the future.