Getty Art History Information Program Launches Initiative on Digital-Imaging Standards

Article excerpt

The Getty Art History Information Program (AHIP) has announced the formation of an international Imaging Initiative to address issues related to the use of digital images in the arts and humanities. The Initiative will foster the development of standards necessary to ensure that scholars, teachers, students, and the general public have access to images of art and cultural objects over electronic communications networks.

"The `information superhighway' offers the possibility for improved access to our artistic and cultural heritage," said Eleanor Fink, director of AHIP. "This potential can only be realized, however, if common approaches are developed for the recording, storage, and distribution of electronic visual information. The Imaging Initiative's goal is to bring the full benefit of digital imaging to the arts and humanities for the purposes of research, education, and enjoyment."

Recent technological developments make it possible to transmit and view digital images over computer networks, but many barriers to universal access remain. In March of this year, AHIP brought together representatives from the various constituencies involved in the issue - including image providers (museums, libraries, and archives), legal experts, and computer network specialists - to identify these barriers and pinpoint areas where AHIP could act most effectively. Three principle concerns were recognized: standards, intellectual property rights, and common vision.

Standards

Currently, there are no common standards for the description, capture, storage, and transmission of images within the arts and humanities community. This results in both technological and qualitative barriers to universal access: existing databases cannot be easily linked, and their content - both text and images - may not meet the high standards scholars require. Networked collections, accurate description, and high image quality and resolution are needed to build the critical mass of images necessary to change effectively the teaching and research methods used in the arts and humanities.

"We stand on the brink of fulfilling the 15th-century humanist Erasmus' dream of a library with no limits other than the world itself,"' said Stuart Lynn, president of the commission on Preservation and Access. "A key challenge is to ensure that the exacting requirements of the humanities and the arts are clearly articulated and recognized, and are not submerged by the overlapping but often less demanding standards that support commercial interests. I am pleased AHIP's Imaging Initiative will work toward this goal."

The Imaging Initiative will work to form a common understanding of who uses digital images, how they use them, and the image quality they require. This effort will also include the development of standards for describing a digital-image file-which includes what was scanned (photo, slide, or the actual work), how it was scanned, and at what resolution - ensuring that scholars can evaluate the digital images they use in their studies.

Intellectual Property Rights

Many image providers see electronic access to their collections as a great opportunity to reach new audiences, yet the issues related to compensation and the intellectual property rights of digital images remain largely undefined. How can images be distributed over networks without compromising their integrity? How can we ensure they will not be distorted or altered? How can institutions manage the use of their images for commercial purposes? What are appropriate mechanisms for managing rights to use images and compensating fights holders for their use?

The Initiative will develop and test a model for the licensing of images of works of art, setting up a mechanism for the reliable distribution of images that preserves image integrity and prevents misuse. …