NYPL Digital Gallery

With the recently opened Digital Gallery, the New York Public Library has given internet users access to approximately 275 thousand images—from drawings to maps, early photographs to illustrated manuscripts. It’s a lot of fun to browse through it, but you might want to make sure you have plenty of time before jumping in; it’s easy to get lost in the stacks.

I had planned to show a thumbnail of a few of the images from the site, but after looking at the main Frequently Asked Questions page, I was a little confused about whether or not I was allowed:

The low-resolution images available on the website are suitable for immediate printing or downloading to provide good-quality reference copies for a wide range of educational, creative, and research purposes. High-resolution images are available for licensing for personal use and for professional reproduction through Photographic Services & Permissions

Here it looks like we can show the low-res versions at no cost. After all, what would be the harm, especially if the images link back to the NYPL site? A New York Times article appears to confirm this reading of the policy: You can collect ’em, enlarge ’em, download ’em, print ’em and hang ’em on your wall at home. All are free, unless, of course, you plan to make money on them yourself. (Permission is required.) Now, though, I’m getting a little uncomfortable. Exactly when is permission required? Only when I “plan to make money on them?” The little permission caveat could apply to the whole sentence, or just to the last part of it. Also, although the article says you can “hang ’em on your wall,” it says nothing about hanging ’em on your website. If only the NYPL‘s Frequently Asked Questions page would explicitly list the “wide range of educational, creative, and research purposes.” Hmm.

I dug around some more in the Photographic Services & Permissions section until I found this statement in another FAQ page:

NYPL provides free and open access to its Digital Gallery and images may be freely downloaded for personal, research and study purposes only. However, as the physical rights holder of this material most of which is in the public domain for copyright purposes, the Library charges a usage fee if images are to be used in any nonprofit or commercial publication, broadcast, web site, exhibition, promotional material, etc. The usage fee is not a copyright fee. You are free to obtain a copy of these images from a source other than NYPL. Usage fees help ensure that the Library is able to continue to acquire, preserve and provide access to the accumulated knowledge of the world. [emphasis is mine]

image removedNow it seems to be saying that we can look at the images and download them to our computers, even print them and display them in the privacy of our own homes, but we can’t let anyone else see them without first getting permission and paying a fee. I wonder if they mean “nonprofit” in the strict sense of the word. Do the fee and the need for permission apply to personal websites, too? It kind of looks that way, and I’d rather not risk legal retribution.

So that’s why there are no images along with this entry. It’s too bad the library didn’t use a licensing structure through the Creative Commons.

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