Can the Smithsonian's public domain images join the Library of Congress's "Commons"?

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,
There is an interesting discussion brewing on the Open Government discussion list. It all started when Aaron Swartz posted information about a new Library of Congress initiative with Flickr called "The Commons." This initiative is important because (if it continues) will allow people to tag images on Flickr as public domain, something you can't do today.

As a result of this discussion, Public.Resource.Org has put an unsolicited proposal into the Smithsonian Institution proposing they join the party by donating 2,000 public domain images to the pool. Yahoo! has not yet said if they would allow the Smithsonian to participate, but we figured they might let them in the door. To make the offer of a joint venture a serious one, we've put $50,000 on the table.

Needless to say, if we're successful in this venture, we'll also make tarballs available for FTP for those who just want to download instead of navigate.



  1. With the complaints of censorship at Flickr increasing, I get concerned about relying on such a corporate entity to host these wonderful images. What’s really needed is a free (as in liberty, not as in gratis) site which can host images. It takes a lot of effort to post, comment, and tag these images. The possibility of having that work erased at the whim of the same company which helps China imprison bloggers is a real issue.

  2. I’ve never used Flickr in any capacity other than browsing, but I’m shocked. You can’t tag images as public domain? Phhh… There goes ever posting any of my photos on it.

    A not-for-profit Flickr-like site would be interesting, but I can’t think thru the economics of keeping it running. Surely just the staffing necessary to handle DMCA takedown notices would be enough to make it a very expensive proposition.

  3. We’ve been talking about how museums can get into the act on the project listserv. Turns out, the project developer has been lurking on the list for some time now, so he piped in once the list started talking about how to get in on this action. Let’s just say that public content is (finally!) going to get a lot more accessible.

    Doran: I had a hairbrained scheme about pitching to Google for precisely that kind of project. Many public institutions can’t afford the infrastructure to support their digitization needs. Even if they do have photographs, where are they going to put them?

    In the past, there’ve been a number of attempts to make some sort of content melting pot, but they’ve mostly been too expensive for all but the largest museums to contribute. Even for that reason, my place of work occasionally considers placing some of our content on Flickr, though we’re still in a planning phase at the moment.

  4. RRR, sorry. Another point I intended to add: In terms of having a non-profit hosting such content (as most cultural heritage places are really concerned about sharing their content on a commercial site like Flickr), I wonder if this is something the Internet Archive could take under their mantle? They’re already doing books, music, film, and web pages and they’re well-established.

  5. In Flickr’s defence, you *can* tag images using any of a range of Creative Commons licenses.

    As such it gets used as an image source for Wikipedia quite extensively (since it’s easy to search for images with a compatible free license).

    Unfortunately, these do not include options for tagging as strictly public domain.

  6. Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

    …and Internet pioneer. Most youngsters don’t remember Internet Talk Radio, but it was a revelation to some of us. I remember using an FTP->Email gateway to download the Sun .AU audio files, using CompuServe to send the requests but receiving the pieces on my MCI Mail account (see, MCI Mail was free to receive, but cost to send, where CompuServe was $6/hour…and yes, this was a more innocent time before mailbombs when you could use one email account to send a 25M file to a completely different email account) so I could listen to shows like Geek of the Week and the National Press Club Luncheons. (Had to manually gather the hundred UUENCODEd pieces of the file together and decode, and I would dedicate a PowerBook 145 to downloading the parts at 2800-baud while I worked on the desk machine.) I still have gold CD-Rs I burned with my $1,000 Sony 2x cart-load SCSI CD-R burner of ITR distributions. If you get a chance, listen to Hell’s Bells: A Radio History of the Telephone, a show I still recommend to everyone to get an historical overview of that combo MP3 player/video player/cell phone y’all are carrying. Just don’t expect CD-quality sound…

    Sorry, has nothing whatsoever to do with photos, but seeing Carl’s name brought up a whole lot of memories…

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