The British Museum has revamped its online collections database, making over 1.9 million photos of its collection available for free online under a Creative Commons license.

Under the new agreement the majority of the 1.9 million images are being made available for anyone to use for free under a Creative Commons 4.0 license. Users no longer need to register to use these photographs, and can now download them directly from the British Museum.

Under the terms of the Creative Commons license, you are free to share and adapt the images for non-commercial use, but must include a credit to the British Museum.

Screenshot of Collection Online search results. © The Trustees of the British Museum

This new version of their online database has been unveiled earlier than planned due to the closure of the museum and the fact that there’s a lot of people stuck at home and visiting museums virtually.

The relaunch also sees 280,000 new object photographs and 85,000 new object records published for the very first time, many of them acquisitions the Museum has made in recent years, including 73 portraits by Damian Hirst, a previously lost watercolour by Rossetti, and a stunning 3,000-year-old Bronze age pendant.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said “Whether you are a student, an artist, a scholar or are a lover of history and culture, this is an unparalleled resource to explore the richness, diversity and complexity of human history contained in the British Museum’s collection.”

This revamp is the biggest update the Museum’s Collection Online has seen since being first created in 2007. It is now fully responsive, making it accessible on mobile and tablets alongside desktop browsers for the first time.

The Lewis Chessmen. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The online collection includes the Museum’s most famous objects such as the Rosetta Stone, the artefacts of Sutton Hoo, the Cyrus Cylinder, the Parthenon Sculptures, and the Benin Bronzes. Object records include physical descriptions, information on materials, display and acquisition history, dimensions, previous owners and curatorial comments. Work is continuing to ensure this information is included as fully as possible on every object in the collection and to add new photographs.

A major new addition is the ability to see object images up close, which will be available on a select number of key objects, including the Rapa Nui sculpture Hoa Hakananai’a and the Admonitions Scroll made in China over 1600 years ago.

The number will then grow to thousands over the coming weeks.

The whole collection is online here.

Helmet from Sutton Hoo. © The Trustees of the British Museum

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17 comments on “British Museum makes 1.9 million images available for free
  1. Virginia Postrel says:

    Unfortunately “noncommercial use” excludes anyone writing a book from a commercial publisher, no matter how serious, well-researched, or low paid.

    • ianvisits says:

      No – it just means that commercial use needs a commercial license, which the Museum also offers.

    • Fmr. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says:

      The actual tragedy is that it excludes the pictures from being used on Wikipedia, as the Wikimedia Commons guidelines forbid “Non-Commercial” CC images. 1.9 Million images of would be a wonderful boon to Wikipedia, though.

  2. Jeroen Hoek says:

    In the second paragraph you mistakenly link to the CC BY 4.0 licence. The licence used by the British Museum is the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0:

    https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/

    You might want to correct the link.

  3. Mohammed Alvarez says:

    I traded some of these items for magical beans and now I want everything back so my people have something to shoot at.

  4. peter says:

    This should be a good news, but that “noncommercial” clausule makes it less attractive that it looks on the first sight. It excludes Wikipedia and basically all media outlets, since it was never settled if editorial use is non-commercial or not.

    • ianvisits says:

      Like all good news — there are always people who are unhappy that the news is not good enough.

    • Thomas Worthington says:

      I’m happy enough if Jimmy Wales’ junkpedia is excluded, but it would be nice to know what the commercial license options are. A link to that might have been handy.

    • ianvisits says:

      Do a search and the commercial license terms are available on every photo.

  5. It’s a pity the that the BM haven’t decide, like more enlightened museums such as the Rijksmuseum, or Smithsonian, to use an open licence for their images of objects in their collection.

    But it is outrageous that they attempt to claim copyright in images that are merely mechanical copies of works that are well out of copyright, like this one:

    https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/507153001

  6. jeff north says:

    Do you expect to make your complete coin collection to be viewable on line?

    • ianvisits says:

      I don’t think anyone would be particularly interested in the contents of my spare change jar – but if you mean will the British Museum make their collection available — it would be better to ask them.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Who is Ian of ianvisits?

  8. Carolyn A Atkinson says:

    Well, as I will never go to England, I am VERY happy they have done this, so thank you very much England. Now if I could find a picture of my ggg grandmother on here, Elizabeth Moorfoot Palfreyman from Yorkshire.

  9. G. Heley says:

    The clause that allows only so- called ‘non commercial use’ which should be a great boon for artists makes things difficult. What is copying and what is inspirational use? I agree with previous contributor that Open Source would be best. But with a clear legal obligation to acknowledge the source as BM Images. Just a thought.

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