Open Access FAQ

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Welcome to Smithsonian Open Access, where you can explore and reuse millions of digital items from the Smithsonian’s collections (2.8 million at February 2020 launch). We have released these images and data into the public domain as Creative Commons Zero (CC0), meaning you can use, transform, and share our open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

What will you create?

About Smithsonian Open Access

What is open access?

Open access is a unique opportunity to bring Smithsonian collections to people in new ways, to engage with the public, and provide important context for challenging 21st-century issues. With Smithsonian Open Access, we’re increasing the public’s ability to use millions of digital assets—2D and 3D images and data. Open Access items carry what’s called a CC0 designation. 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.

What is Creative Commons Zero (CC0)?

CC0 is a designation used by cultural organizations to waive copyright rights that it may have for a digital asset. The Smithsonian is using CC0 to tell people that they do not need the Smithsonian’s permission to use the digital asset in any way. CC0 only applies to copyright so you may still need someone else’s permission to use a CC0-designated digital asset. For more information, see the Smithsonian Terms of Use.

Why Smithsonian Open Access?

Since the Smithsonian’s founding in 1846, its mission has been clear: “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” We want to empower people everywhere to participate in that mission with us in new and innovative ways for the 21st century.

Smithsonian Open Access invites you to discover a world where you can learn, research, explore, and create in ways you couldn’t before. By making our trusted collections easier to access and use, we hope to inspire people to build new knowledge to understand our world—past and present.

What does Smithsonian Open Access include?

Open access applies to digital assets that are created, stored, or maintained by the Smithsonian. This might include text, still images, sound recordings, research datasets, 3D models, collections data, and more.

What is not included in Smithsonian Open Access?

We want to make as many of our assets open access as possible, but some items are not part of this program and their use is restricted. These assets may be restricted for various reasons including:

  • The Smithsonian has not yet created a digitized image of or data for an object
  • An object is under copyright
  • An object is subject to contractual restrictions from a donor, lender, or artist
  • An object is culturally sensitive
  • An object is not fully owned by the Smithsonian
  • An asset is in a format not yet incorporated fully on Smithsonian digital collections platforms, such as video and sound recordings
  • An asset is a Smithsonian name or trademark
  • A digital asset created by or on behalf of the Smithsonian as a product is sold or licensed for a fee (e.g. products including Folkways albums, some education curricula, publications, or other forms of media)

How can I use Smithsonian Open Access content?

We invite you to download, share, and reuse our open access assets for art and creative projects, education, scholarly research, digital media projects, publications, merchandising, and more—all without charge or restrictions from the Smithsonian. Third-party or legal restrictions may still apply to your use (see the Smithsonian Terms of Use).

Visit our "Open Access Remix” page for examples of creative and innovative projects based on our open access collections.

May I use Smithsonian Open Access content for commercial use?

Yes, you may use Smithsonian Open Access assets designated as CC0 for commercial purposes without any attribution, permission, or fee paid to the Smithsonian. While you do not need the Smithsonian’s permission to use open access content, you are responsible for obtaining any third-party permissions that may be required for your use. For example, a third party may claim rights in the content such as trademark, privacy, or publicity rights. You are fully responsible for your own lawful use of these materials and for not infringing on the rights of third parties.

If the item is not designated CC0, you must still obtain prior written permission from the Smithsonian for commercial use.

Can I create a bot or social media account to share Smithsonian images and information?

Yes!  But please note our names are not part of the release!  It’s important not to confuse the public about who is running the account.  In other words, don’t make it look like an official Smithsonian account when it is not.  Here’s how:  avoid using our names (the Smithsonian, SI, or any museum name) in the account’s name, address, display name, handle, nickname, or other field.  Be sure also to avoid acronyms, like SI or NMAfA or NMAAHC, because the Smithsonian uses those for its URLs and social media accounts already.  But of course, you may mention the Smithsonian in the bio section where you explain how your bot operates (i.e., draws from one museum or another) and/or why you are sharing these images and information.

How can I use content NOT designated as CC0?

Assets marked with “usage conditions apply” may be used for personal, educational, and other non-commercial uses consistent with fair use (see the U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index). You may not use any assets with usage conditions for commercial purposes. For more information, see the Smithsonian Terms of Use.

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain. This means they have been released under an open license that permits free access, adaptation, and redistribution by others. Visit the Smithsonian Learning Lab to learn more.

Does this mean I can use the Smithsonian logo or trademark?

No, the Smithsonian logo and other trademarks are not included in the open access program and may not be used without our prior written permission.

Will the Smithsonian release more Open Access items in the future?

Yes. The Smithsonian is committed to releasing over 3 million items throughout 2020 alone. Beyond 2020, it will add more items on a continuing basis as they are digitized, researched, and published online.

What is the Smithsonian's commitment to cultural responsibility with open access?

The Smithsonian respects the rights and sovereignty of the diverse cultures Smithsonian collections represent. The Smithsonian engages with these communities about the use of these assets, so culturally sensitive content may not be Open Access now or in the future. Please view the Smithsonian Open Access Values Statement to learn more about the Smithsonian’s core values in adopting and executing the Open Access Initiative, now and going forward.

Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact openaccess@si.edu

What is the Smithsonian’s commitment to accessibility and inclusion?

The Smithsonian strives to make all visitors feel welcome. The Smithsonian Open Access Initiative is committed to ensuring the accuracy and accessibility of its collections and data as stewards of the nation’s collections. With the Open Access Initiative launch, the Smithsonian worked on assessing and developing a near-term roadmap to address the gaps in access to Smithsonian data and collections for users (or visitors) with physical and cognitive disabilities. Enhancements to the Smithsonian digital collections platforms were made to improve mark-up and visual accessibility factors. Future open access phases will be dedicated to establishing new accessibility processes across the Smithsonian’s collections museums, libraries, archives, and research centers with the development of a detailed roadmap.

Does the Smithsonian adhere to FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship?

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, included in the open access data, set adheres to FAIR principles. FAIR is a guiding principle for Smithsonian Open Access and the Smithsonian implemented Global Unique Identifiers across the Smithsonian’s collections as part of our efforts to implement FAIR.


How To Use Smithsonian Open Access Collections

 

How can I identify which items are open access?

Look for the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) icon on Smithsonian websites and third-party sites:  

CC0

If an item is not designated as CC0, it is subject to usage conditions. 

In what formats can I access open access content?

  • 2D Images
    • JPG
    • TIFF (if it exists)
  • 3D Images
    • glTF
    • glb
    • obj (150k and full res versions)
    • Voyager scenes (viewable models online)
  •  Data
    • Single Object TXT files
    • IIIF JSON Manifest
    • Research data via Figshare
    • .JSON via API and GitHub repository

What about citations?

Open access items designated as CC0 do not require attribution or citation, however, it is helpful to provide basic credit information to the Smithsonian, as well as a link to the asset, so others can obtain the latest image and data. In general, we recommend a “minimal” caption of title, author, source, license, and source URL.

If an item is not designated as CC0 and still has copyright or other restrictions, it should be cited with the URL "www.si.edu," in addition to all copyright and other proprietary notices contained on the materials.  

You may wish to cite images and data from the Smithsonian's collections for educational and scholarly or other publication purposes. Consult si.edu/search, metadata associated with an object and the application programming interface (API), or data from the GitHub repository for information that can be used for citations.  

Please Note: 
A credit line features the name of an individual or a group of contributors which have been the source or donor of an object in the collection of the Smithsonian.  

An accession number is the Smithsonian's official inventory number of records that is an object’s identifier in the collection. This number is helpful for identifying a work especially for study, research, and publication purposes. 

Citation of the Smithsonian’s CC0 or restricted media and data does not imply endorsement by the Smithsonian, nor does it grant permission to use the Smithsonian's trademarks without prior permission.

How do I browse and download Smithsonian Open Access content?

You can find our CC0 assets in the following places:

How do I access open access metadata for collection objects?

You can access open access metadata and register for an API key via the Smithsonian’s public API hosted on api.data.gov. Documentation regarding fields, departments, and data types is available through the API as well. Portions of metadata are made available for all digital images of public domain objects whose underlying work is in the public domain, including a URL to a corresponding image file. Objects in the Smithsonian’s collection that may have copyright or other limitations have portions of metadata with CC0, but no media file is provided by the Smithsonian due to limitations.

Users can also access the Smithsonian's collection data via a GitHub repository. Detailed documentation is available along with the data formatted in .JSON. Please note that the Smithsonian does not support pull requests. Data is refreshed at a weekly rate, so please check often for the latest revisions.

CC0 Smithsonian collection data and media are also available from Figshare, Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons, and Wikidata.

What if I find a mistake or have new information?

Please note where the record is from as the Smithsonian has 19 museums, nine research centers, archives, libraries, and a zoo. If there is no contact information on the record pages, please reference the contact list here

I cannot find what I am looking for. How do I optimize my search results?

Visit the Smithsonian Open Access home page to explore open access media and data. Visit the Collections Search Center or Smithsonian Unit websites for advanced search features. If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, send a request to Rights Contacts.

How may I use items designated “no known copyright restriction”?

The phrase, “no known copyright restriction,” means the Smithsonian is unaware of any copyright restrictions on the media and data, based on our best efforts and available information. Restrictions may still exist, however, so if you decide to use the asset without clearing all rights, you will be responsible if someone else owns the rights and objects.


Commercial Uses of Smithsonian Collections

Do companies and organizations need to send gratis copies of publications that include open access content to the Smithsonian? 

No. However, we’d love to hear how they use them by sharing at openaccess@si.edu or #SmithsonianOpenAccess.  

Who do I contact if I want to use images that are not designated CC0?

For questions about a specific collection asset, please contact the specific museum or program associated with the asset listed on the Rights Contacts page.

If you are seeking permission to include assets with usage conditions in a commercial product or other item of consumer merchandise, or to have a bran partnership with the Smithsonian, please contact the Office of Product Development and Licensing, rightsmanager@si.edu. If you are seeking to use Content with usage conditions in a film or video product, or for general assistance with filming requests, please contact filmingcommittee@si.edu.

Who do I contact if I want to use the Smithsonian brand on a product or in marketing?  

If you are seeking permission to use the Smithsonian names or logos or include Content with usage conditions in a commercial product or other item of consumer merchandise, please contact the Office of Product Development and Licensing, rightsmanager@si.edu. If you are seeking to use Content with usage conditions in a film or video product, or for general assistance with filming requests, please contact filmingcommittee@si.edu.

What if I want an image size or format that is not on the website?  

For image sizes or formats that are not available online, please contact the specific museum or program associated with the asset listed on the Rights Contacts page.

Where do I get more information on an open access asset or other asset on your website?  

Please contact the specific museum or program associated with the asset listed on the Rights Contacts page.

Can I get written confirmation or a license that I can use open access assets in my project?

No. Written confirmations or license agreements will no longer be issued for open access assets.  

Can I link to your site from my digital product?

You may link to a Smithsonian website; however, you must present the link in a manner that does not give the impression that the Smithsonian endorses, whether expressly or implicitly, any products, services, or opinions provided on your website and that the link contain a clearly written notice that the user is leaving your website and accessing another. For linking, please use a text link, not the logo. 

If I previously licensed an image that is now an open access asset, do I need to request permission to reuse the previous image?

No. You may download and use any open access asset without further permission required from the Smithsonian.  

May I put content with usage conditions on my personal website, blog, or my Facebook® (or other social networking) page?

Yes, so long as you:

  • Identify the author and source of the Content
  • Do not remove any copyright, trademark, or other notices that are placed in or near the Content you use
  • Do not use the Content to promote, advertise, or sell your own products or services or for any other commercial or unauthorized purpose
  • Comply with any other terms or restrictions that may be applicable to the Content

Is it an unauthorized use of Content with usage conditions if the host of my website or blog adds advertising to my website or blog?

If that is the only commercial aspect of your website or blog, you may post the Content with usage conditions on that site consistent with these Terms of Use.

I love the Smithsonian sunburst logo! May I use it on my website?

No. You may not use the Smithsonian logo or other trademarks without the Smithsonian’s prior written permission.

Who can I contact if I have questions?

Contact us at openaccess@si.edu.