Back in 2008, the web por­tal Euro­peanawas begun whose goal it is to make “Europe’s cul­tural and sci­en­tific her­itage acces­si­ble to the pub­lic.” Since then the dig­i­tal library has col­lected more than 20 mil­lion items and is hard at work fig­ur­ing out a way to truly make these trea­sures of Euro­pean cul­ture acces­si­ble to all through the use of Cre­ative Commons.

This week, Euro­peana released The Eur­popeana Licens­ing Frame­work (pdf) which doc­u­ments “the rela­tion­ships between Euro­peana, its data providers and its users” and Cre­ative Com­mons con­sid­ers as the “first major adopter of the Pub­lic Domain Mark”. The frame­work attempts to offer the user a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of the Euro­peana Data Exchange Agree­ment (pdf) which goes into effect on Jan­u­ary 1, 2012.  The idea is sim­ple, muse­ums or “mem­ory insti­tu­tions” make avail­able their work in the Pub­lic Doman. Euro­peana acts as an aggre­ga­tor and search engine for end-users to find work. One can only hope that the search capa­bil­i­ties of Euro­peana get bet­ter with age. For instance, the search that returns work from the Lou­vre dis­plays 23,000 images. The result set is not bro­ken down by time period, artists, medium, etc., they are sim­ply cat­e­go­rized as “images”. This needs to be changed in the near future if Euro­peana wants to broaden its reach on the web.

There seems to be much lat­i­tude on the qual­ity of images pro­vided by muse­ums. If muse­ums are try­ing to pro­vide good art­work to be used in the infor­ma­tion age, most are fail­ing. Much of the work I have come across is only avail­able as small images, most too small to be used on most web­sites, let alone Uncer­tain Form. When I began this arti­cle, I was drawn to Johannes Vermeer’s The Milk­maid because of the fol­low­ing state­ment in The Prob­lem of the Yel­low Milk­maid (pdf), a Euro­peana whitepaper:

The Milk­maid’, one of Johannes Vermeer’s most famous pieces, depicts a scene of a woman qui­etly pour­ing milk into a bowl. Dur­ing a sur­vey the Rijksmu­seum dis­cov­ered that there were over 10,000 copies of the image on the internet—mostly poor, yel­low­ish repro­duc­tions. As a result of all of these low-quality copies on the web, accord­ing to the Rijksmu­seum, “peo­ple sim­ply didn’t believe the post­cards in our museum shop were show­ing the orig­i­nal paint­ing. This was the trig­ger for us to put high-resolution images of the orig­i­nal work with open meta­data on the web our­selves. Open­ing up our data is our best defence against the ‘yel­low Milkmaid’.”

Though it appears that the Rijksmu­seum is not pro­vid­ing entries in Euro­peana as of yet, they are how­ever pro­vid­ing strik­ing images through­out the Wiki­me­dia frame­work as well as their own web­site. Com­pare Rembrandt’s The Night­watch (Wiki­com­mons, Rijksmu­seum) to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (Lou­vre) of how to make art avail­able on the web. Hope­fully the Rijksmu­seum is just fol­low­ing other muse­ums lead by pro­vid­ing qual­ity images on the web for reuse through Cre­ative Com­mons Pub­lic Domain license, CC0, but in my quick look around, sadly, it doesn’t appear to be so.

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