Newspaper article International New York Times

A Museum at the Forefront of Digitization

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Museum at the Forefront of Digitization

Article excerpt

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has embarked on a sweeping digitization project that aims to digitize all one million objects in its collection by 2020.

While many major museums have embarked on sweeping digitization projects, the one at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is distinguished by its ambition to be among the most exhaustive. By 2020, the museum intends to digitize all one million objects in its collection -- from masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer to Delft pottery, silk brocade gowns and matchlock muskets. Today, 25 percent of the museum's collection, including nearly all of its paintings, is freely available for download in high-resolution on rijksmuseum.nl, with new images being added every day.

What sets the Rijksmuseum's digitization program apart is not just its scope, but also a very progressive approach to copyright. Works have a Creative Commons "0" status, which means they can be modified and disseminated in practically any way. That includes exploiting the images for commercial use -- downloaded artworks have been turned into iPhone cases, scarves, even a tattoo.

The museum encourages experimentation, hosting creative contests and offering .tiff files (also for free) to those who want to republish images in large formats.

"It's really a fundamental belief of the management at the Rijksmuseum that sharing is the new having," said Cecile van der Harten, the head of the museum's image department, who has spent the past decade leading the digitization effort. "It means you want to try do anything and everything to let people enjoy the collection, whether it's live or online."

While this view may be fueled by altruism, it is also a concession to the dynamics of the Internet. If the museum didn't share its collection, lower-quality reproductions of the works would still circulate online. "The thought was people will steal it anyhow," Ms. …

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