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Open Access at the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Open Access

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Open Access

Smithsonian Open Access expands the ways educators and students may use our digital resources. This page will tell you everything you need to know to assure that you and your students are acting as good digital citizens when using Smithsonian content.

Open Access releases into the public domain millions of Smithsonian digital resources. They now have Creative Commons Zero (CC0) designations, meaning you can use, transform, and distribute them without asking permission.

You have always been able to make fair use of Smithsonian content, and Open Access does not change that. For all the details, view the Smithsonian Terms of Use. For a deep dive into fair use, see the U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index or Education World's 5-part series for educators, The Educator's Guide to Copyright and Fair Use.

Open Access is different from a "permitted use" for educational purposes. A CC0 designation indicates waiver of copyright and means all uses are permitted. You could include a CC0 resource in an e-book or make it part of your new artwork, and you could sell those creations. If the item has any restrictions, the item will note "Usage Conditions Apply" (see examples below).

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FAQs for the Classroom


Can I continue to make educational use (fair use) of all resources in the Smithsonian Learning Lab?

In short, YES!

For all the details, view the Smithsonian Terms of Use. For a deep dive into fair use, see the U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index or Education World's 5-part series for educators, The Educator's Guide to Copyright and Fair Use.


How is my use of the Smithsonian Learning Lab different now?

On some images you will see a Creative Commons designation symbol. Creative Commons is an international movement to increase creative reuse of content. A CC0 ("see-see-zero") designation means that the item has NO copyright restrictions. It is in the public domain, free to use for any purpose.

Here are some of the possible ways to use CC0 digital assets:

  • Everyone may use, reuse, and remix CC0 images on other platforms and media.
  • Teachers and other content developers may use CC0 content in lesson plans or other products, then sell or distribute them. No prior permission from the Smithsonian is required.
  • Students making content, such as a photo collage using only CC0 images, can now distribute the new content for commercial purposes.

You may continue to use the Smithsonian Learning Lab as a trusted platform to search for resources, create personalized collections of those resources, and share them with others. With the addition of CC0 designations to some resources, you may freely download, build upon, transform, and reuse them for any purpose, outside of the Learning Lab (e.g., on your own website).


How do I know if an image is CC0 or not?

When viewing a resource on the Smithsonian Learning Lab, look to the tools located in the lower-left corner of the page. You will see a CC0 icon CC0 icon if the image is unrestricted or a lock icon usage restricted lock icon if it has specific usage conditions. Click on the CC0 or lock icons to learn more.

Learning Lab Resource with Usage Information popup open


If an image is unrestricted, you will find a wide variety of download formats and file types by clicking on the Download button download icon. You can save the image or its metadata to your computer and use it however you choose.

Learning Lab Resource with downloads popup open



Do I still need to cite or attribute resources that I use from the Smithsonian Learning Lab?

When using an image with a CC0 designation in a new creative work (such as a blog post or presentation), it is best practice, though not required, to provide an attribution that includes: Title, Author, Source, and License with their respective links, where available. The Smithsonian Learning Lab includes this information for each of its CC0 images in the information panel of each image.

For example: "Abraham Lincoln," by Alexander Gardner, is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

However, when using resources in a research paper, best practice is to identify and cite the resource following the style guide relevant to your discipline or recommended by your school or instructor. The Smithsonian Learning Lab includes a "Cite This Resource" and "Cite This Collection" button on each of its resources and collections webpages. This automatically generated citation refers to the resource or collection's webpage. If you want to specifically cite sections of this page, such as the image, consult the MLA, APA, or Chicago Manual of Style.

For example, MLA Citation: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. "Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Abraham Lincoln." Smithsonian Learning Lab, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 26 Oct. 2015. learninglab.si.edu/q/r/1363. Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

General Open Access FAQs