Three women going to the opera, Bert Roberts early 1900, Queensland Museum, Creative Commons License

We’ve posted before about the growing movement for cultural institutions across the globe to provide open online access to public domain images in their collections. And Australian institutions have been up there in the thick of the charge – the Powerhouse Museum, for example, was the second institution worldwide to join the Flickr Commons initiative, and has now been joined by four other Australian institutions. As a result the public can access archives they may otherwise never have seen by using only the click of a mouse.

Now the Queensland Museum has joined the party, uploading a test batch of 20 high resolution images from their collection for free online access. But what makes this initiative particularly interesting that it’s being conducted in collaboration with Wikimedia Australia and they’ve chosen to upload the photos to Wiki Commons, rather than Flickr Commons.

One of the benefits of using Wiki Commons is that, as the official media archive for the Wikimedia community, it makes it easier (and hence hopefully more likely) that related articles will be written on Wikipedia – the fourth most visited site on the internet – and linked back to the photos and the museum. The Flickr Commons images can be used in this way too, but this requires someone taking the extra step of uploading them to Wiki Commons – potentially slowing the process, and giving the museum less control over how the objects are described on the Wikimedia site.

To quote David Milne, Manager of Strategic Learning at the Queensland Museum, in his post about the initiative:

An advantage that using Wikimedia has over other photo hosting sites, such as FLICKR, is that Wikipedia articles can be written or linked to the photo subject matter. New information unearthed by Wikimedia researchers since posting the photographs has been invaluable. However, monitoring usage and repurposing of free media files on Wiki Commons can be a challenge.

As for the images themselves – they feature a sample of the museum’s collection of photos by Bert Roberts, a local amateur photographer from the late 19th century. As such, the original images are in the public domain – although, in another interesting move, the Queensland Museum have asserted copyright over the digitised images, releasing them under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike licence. This could be controversially, as the Wikimedia community are currently arguing with the UK’s National Portrait Gallery about rights over digitised versions of public domain images. I posted about the legal questions surrounding this debate on the Collections Australia blog a few weeks ago.

But, legal questions aside, as the comments on David’s post show the reaction from the Australian museums and Wikimedia communities has been great. We even understand there will be a story about it on ABC Local Gold Coast this Friday.

Congratulations to the Queensland Museum for taking this first (but important) step. The photographs have been released as a trial in an effort to better share Australia’s cultural heritage by enabling others to appreciate what life was like in early 20th century Queensland. It is hopefully only the beginning of Australia’s national institutions sharing our history and we look forward to seeing many positive benefits spring from this release.

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