Open Access at the Smithsonian
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.
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).
FAQs for the Classroom
Can I continue to make educational use (fair use) of all resources in the Smithsonian Learning Lab?
In short, YES!
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 if the image is unrestricted or a lock icon if it has specific usage conditions. Click on the CC0 or lock icons to learn more.
If an image is unrestricted, you will find a wide variety of download formats and file types by clicking on the Download button . You can save the image or its metadata to your computer and use it however you choose.
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.
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
Open Access is a unique opportunity to bring Smithsonian collections to people in new ways, to engage with the public, and provide important context for challenging 21st century issues. With Smithsonian Open Access, we're increasing the public's ability to use millions of digital assets – 2D and 3D images and data. Open Access items carry what's called a CC0 designation. This means the Smithsonian dedicates the digital asset into the public domain, meaning it is free of copyright restrictions and you can use it for any purpose, free of charge, without further permission from the Smithsonian. As new images are digitized, if they are determined to be copyright-free, the Smithsonian will dedicate them as CC0 ongoing.
Since the Smithsonian's founding in 1846, its mission has been clear: "the increase and diffusion of knowledge." We want to empower people everywhere to participate in that mission with us in new and innovative ways for the 21st century.
Smithsonian Open Access invites you to discover a world where you can learn, research, explore, and create in ways you couldn't before. By making our trusted collections easier to access and use, we hope to inspire people to build new knowledge to understand our world – past and present.
Open Access applies to digital assets that are created, stored, or maintained by the Smithsonian. This might include text, still images, sound recordings, research datasets, 3D models, collections data, and more.
We want to make as many of our assets Open Access as possible, but some items are not part of this program and their use is restricted. These assets may be restricted for various reasons including:
- The Smithsonian has not yet created a digitized image of or data for an object
- An object is under copyright
- An object is subject to contractual restrictions from a donor, lender, or artist
- An object is culturally sensitive
- An object is not fully owned by the Smithsonian
- An asset is in a format not yet incorporated fully on Smithsonian digital collections platforms, such as video and sound recordings
- An asset is a Smithsonian name or trademark
- A digital asset created by or on behalf of the Smithsonian as a product is sold or licensed for a fee (e.g. products including Folkways albums, some education curricula, publications, or other forms of media)
Visit our "Open Access Remix" page for examples of creative and innovative projects based on our Open Access collections.
Yes, you may use Smithsonian Open Access assets designated as CC0 for commercial purposes without any attribution, permission, or fee paid to the Smithsonian. While you do not need the Smithsonian's permission to use Open Access content, you are responsible for obtaining any third-party permissions that may be required for your use. For example, a third party may claim rights in the content such as trademark, privacy, or publicity rights. You are fully responsible for your own lawful use of these materials and for not infringing on the rights of third parties.
If the item is not designated CC0, you must still obtain prior written permission from the Smithsonian for commercial use.
Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain. This means they have been released under an open license that permits free access, adaptation, and redistribution by others.
No, the Smithsonian logo and other trademarks are not included in the Open Access program and may not be used without our prior written permission.
Yes. The Smithsonian is committed to releasing over 3 million items throughout 2020 alone. Beyond 2020, it will add more items on a continuing basis as they are digitized, researched, and published online.
The Smithsonian respects the rights and sovereignty of the diverse cultures Smithsonian collections represent. The Smithsonian wishes to engage with these communities about the use of these assets, so culturally sensitive content may not be Open Access now or in the future. Please view the Smithsonian Open Access Values Statement to learn more about the Smithsonian's core values in adopting and executing the Open Access Initiative.
The Smithsonian strives to make all visitors feel welcome. The Smithsonian Open Access Initiative is committed to ensuring the accuracy and accessibility of its collections and data as stewards of the nation's collections. With the Open Access Initiative launch, the Smithsonian worked on assessing and developing a near-term roadmap to address the gaps in access to Smithsonian data and collections for users (or visitors) with physical and cognitive disabilities. Enhancements to the Smithsonian digital collections platforms were made to improve mark-up and visual accessibility factors. Future Open Access phases will be dedicated to establishing new accessibility processes across the Smithsonian's collections museums, libraries, archives, and research centers with the development of a detailed roadmap.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, included in the Open Access data, set adheres to FAIR principles. FAIR is a guiding principle for Smithsonian Open Access and the Smithsonian implemented Global Unique Identifiers across the Smithsonian's collections as part of our efforts to implement FAIR.
Look for the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) icon on Smithsonian websites and third-party sites. If an item is not designated as CC0, it is subject to usage conditions.
- 2D Images
- TIFF (if it exists)
- 3D Images
- obj (150k and full res versions)
- Voyager scenes (viewable models online))
- Single Object TXT files
- IIIF JSON Manifest
- Research data via Figshare
- JSON via API and GitHub repository)
The phrase, "no known copyright restriction," means the Smithsonian is unaware of any copyright restrictions on the media and data, based on our best efforts and available information. Restrictions may still exist, however, so if you decide to use the asset without clearing all rights, you will be responsible if someone else owns the rights and objects.
Open Access items designated as CC0 do not require attribution or citation, however, it's helpful to provide basic credit information to the Smithsonian, as well as a link to the asset, so others can obtain the latest image and data. In general, we recommend a "minimal" caption of title, author, source, license, and source URL.
If an item is not designated as CC0 and still has copyright or other restrictions, it should be cited with the URL "www.si.edu," in addition to all copyright and other proprietary notices contained on the materials.
You may wish to cite images and data from the Smithsonian's collections for educational and scholarly or other publication purposes. Consult si.edu/explore, metadata associated with an object and the application programming interface (API), or data from the GitHub repository for information that can be used for citations.
Please Note: A credit line features the name of an individual or a group of contributors which have been the source or donor of an object in the collection of the Smithsonian.
An accession number is the Smithsonian's official inventory number of records that is an object's identifier in the collection. This number is helpful for identifying a work especially for study, research, and publication purposes.
Citation of the Smithsonian's CC0 or restricted media and data does not imply endorsement by the Smithsonian, nor does it grant permission to use the Smithsonian's trademarks without prior permission.
You can find our CC0 assets in the following places:
- Smithsonian Open Access portal
- Individual websites of Smithsonian museums and research centers
- Smithsonian Learning Lab
- GitHub repository
- Smithsonian public API hosted on api.data.gov
- Smithsonian Figshare for research data
- Third-party platforms such as Creative Commons, Digital Public Library of America, Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons, GBIF, and bulk download of natural history collections data in DarwinCore format via National Museum of Natural History internet publishing toolkit (IPT) utility
You can access Open Access metadata and register for an API key via the Smithsonian's public API hosted on api.data.gov. Documentation regarding fields, departments, and data types is available through the API as well. Portions of metadata are made available for all digital images of public domain objects whose underlying work is in the public domain, including a URL to a corresponding image file. Objects in the Smithsonian's collection that may have copyright or other limitations have portions of metadata with CC0, but no media file is provided by the Smithsonian due to limitations.
Users can also access the Smithsonian's collection data via a GitHub repository. Detailed documentation is available along with the data formatted in .JSON. Please note that the Smithsonian does not support pull requests. Data is refreshed at a weekly rate, so please check often for the latest revisions.
CC0 Smithsonian collection data and media are also available from Figshare, Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons, and Wikidata.
For questions about a specific asset, please contact the specific museum or program associated with the asset listed on the Rights Contacts page.
If you are seeking permission to include assets with usage conditions in a commercial product or other item of consumer merchandise, please contact the Office of Product Development and Licensing, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are seeking to use Content with usage conditions in a film or video product, or for general assistance with filming requests, please contact email@example.com.
If you are seeking permission to use the Smithsonian names or logos or include Content with usage conditions in a commercial product or other item of consumer merchandise, please contact the Office of Product Development and Licensing, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are seeking to use Content with usage conditions in a film or video product, or for general assistance with filming requests, please contact email@example.com.
For image sizes or formats that are not available online, please contact the specific museum or program associated with the asset listed on the Rights Contacts page.
Please contact the specific museum or program associated with the asset listed on the Rights Contacts page.
No. Written confirmations or license agreements will no longer be issued for Open Access assets.
You may link to a Smithsonian website; however, you must present the link in a manner that does not give the impression that the Smithsonian endorses, whether expressly or implicitly, any products, services, or opinions provided on your website and that the link contain a clearly written notice that the user is leaving your website and accessing another. For linking, please use a text link, not the logo.
No. You may download and use any Open Access asset without further permission required from the Smithsonian.
Yes, so long as you:
- Identify the author and source of the Content
- Do not remove any copyright, trademark, or other notices that are placed in or near the Content you use
- Do not use the Content to promote, advertise, or sell your own products or services or for any other commercial or unauthorized purpose
- Comply with any other terms or restrictions that may be applicable to the Content
No. You may not use the Smithsonian logo or other trademarks without the Smithsonian's prior written permission.