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Paris Museums Put 100,000 Artworks Online, Copyright-Free

Paris Musées, a consortium of 14 different museums and art galleries in the French capital, announced in January that it would now offer around 150,000 digital reproductions of its artworks for free. In a press release, the city’s museums said that an Open Access form of digital download would be possible for everyone without any restrictions from its online collections portal. In a move that will be closely watched by other museums in France – and the rest of the world, for that matter – anyone who wants to own a copy of an image can now download a file to do what they want with.

According to Paris Musées, all downloads will include a high definition digital version of the artwork chosen that offers a resolution of no fewer than 300 dots per inch (DPI). In addition to the digital image, users will also automatically receive a document in their download which gives information about the chosen artwork as well as a guide about how to make use of the picture as well as rules about properly citing the source of the image.

Above: Pierre Bonnard, “Nu dans le bain” (1936), oil on canvas, from the collection of the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris

A Paris-Wide Decision

Paris Musées is a publicly owned organisation. In recent years, the argument about whether the galleries in the group ‘own’ the artworks in their collection as well as the digital image rights that go with them has been one that has raged in France and elsewhere in Europe. The group oversees municipal museums which include some of the leading galleries in the city, such as the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Petit Palais, among others. Among the famous artists in these institutions are several who are considered masters, including Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt van Rijn and Eugène Delacroix.

Among the Parisian galleries’ collections, there are many lesser-known artworks, too. Nearly all of the pieces in the galleries’ collections have been subject to high definition digital scans, whether the artwork is by a famous artist and, crucially, whether or not it has even been on display in recent years or held in storage. In short, the project is not simply about allowing people to download and own a copy of a piece of art but to allow access to the group’s entire collection, thereby augmenting the gallery experience, albeit in a virtual sense.

A Public Education Project

“The launch of the Open Content [project]… marks a new stage in Paris Musées’ digitisation policy,” the institution’s press release stated. “It will contribute to the enhancement and the improvement of the way our collections are made available,” it continued. The statement went on to say that the move would allow Paris Musées to strengthen the measures it has already taken concerning public access to better ensure how art and culture can enjoy increased visibility in the digital age. “[This will allow for better]… understanding of the works in our municipal collections,” it said.

According to Paris Musées, making this gallery data available over the internet has now guaranteed that digital files can be freely accessed by anyone or everyone. All of the images in the project can be used or reused without any technical, legal or other types of constraint. Interestingly, this decision does not distinguish between the personal or commercial uses of the downloaded imagery. In other words, the digital files will belong in the public domain freely, under what is known as a creative commons zero licence. Importantly, however, some images that remain in copyright will not operate under such a licensing arrangement. It will be possible for the public to download these, too, but only in a low definition format.

As well as a large number of paintings, such as portraits by Paul Cézanne or Gustave Courbet’s well-regarded Les demoiselles des bords de la Seine, people will also be able to download a wide range of other examples of two-dimensional art. This includes photography, such as works by Eugène Atget who was famous for his fin-de-siècle images of the Parisian cityscape.

About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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