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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