The British Museum has placed 1.9 million high-rez images of objects in its holdings online under a Creative Commons license, which is excellent news!

What's more, they've got an advanced suite of tools for searching and downloading these images. It's a really impressive technical and cultural achievement.


But there's a fly in the ointment (more than one).

First, the museum takes the position that these public domain works acquire a new copyright once someone makes a high-quality photo of them. They have chosen a very restrictive CC license (CC BY-NC-SA).

This is wrong as a matter of UK law, as the UK Intellectual Property Office has stated:



"Copyright can only subsist in subject matter that is original in the sense that it is the author's own 'intellectual creation'. Given this criterion, it seems unlikely that what is merely a retouched, digitised image of an older work can be considered as 'original'."

Beyond that, the museum's claim to be the sole commercial exploiter of these works is a bad look, given how much of its collection was stolen - looted - from colonized lands.


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"When we stole these artifacts, it was culture. When you sell our pictures, that's theft."


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