Open Access

The Smithsonian was established in 1846 for "the increase and diffusion of knowledge." The Smithsonian Open Access Initiative furthers this mission to empower people around the world to participate in the pursuit of new knowledge with contemporary technology. The goal of the Open Access Initiative is to increase the utility, discoverability, and accessibility of the Smithsonian’s trusted collections and data to empower the public to innovate and build new knowledge to help solve today's challenges.

What is open access?

Open access is a unique opportunity to bring the National Portrait Gallery 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 thousands 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 Portrait Gallery. As new images are digitized, if they are determined to be copyright-free, the National Portrait Gallery will dedicate them as CC0 ongoing.

What is Creative Commons Zero (CC0)?

CC0 is a designation used by cultural organizations to waive copyright rights that it may have for a digital asset. The Smithsonian is using CC0 to tell people that they do not need the Smithsonian's permission to use the digital asset in any way. CC0 only applies to copyright so you may still need someone else's permission to use a CC0-designated digital asset. For more information, see the Smithsonian Terms of Use.

Why Smithsonian Open Access?

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.

What does Open Access at the National Portrait Gallery include?

Open access applies to digital assets that are created, stored, or maintained by the National Portrait Gallery. This might include text, still images, sound recordings, research datasets, 3D models, collections data, and more.

What is not included in Open Access?

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 Portrait Gallery 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 Portrait Gallery
  • An asset is in a format not yet incorporated fully on Portrait Gallery digital collections platforms, such as video and sound recordings
  • An asset is a Smithsonian name or trademark

How can I identify which items are open access?

Look for the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) icon in the collection search: 

CC0 icon

If an item is not designated as CC0, it is subject to usage conditions.  These assets are marked with "usage conditions apply."

What if I want an image size or format that is not on the website?

A quality high resolution digital image of the work may not exist.  Over time, more high-resolution images from the permanent collection will be made available on the National Portrait Gallery's website. 

What if an image I need is not available, or if I need a higher-resolution version of an existing image?

To request an image not available under Open Access or to request a higher-resolution version of an existing image, please fill out our Image Request Form.

How can I use Open Access content?

We invite you to download, share, and reuse our open access assets for art and creative projects, education, scholarly research, digital media projects, publications, merchandising, and more – all without charge or restrictions from the National Portrait Gallery. Third-party or legal restrictions may still apply to your use (see the Smithsonian Terms of Use).

May I use Open Access content for commercial use?

Yes, you may use 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 Portrait Gallery’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 National Portrait Gallery for commercial use. To request an image not designated CC0, please fill out our Image Request Form.

How can I use content NOT designated as CC0?

Assets marked with "usage conditions apply" may be used for personal, educational, and other non-commercial uses consistent with fair use (see the U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index). You may not use any assets with usage conditions for commercial purposes. For more information, see the Smithsonian Terms of Use.

Will the Portrait Gallery release more Open Access items in the future?

Yes, the National Portrait Gallery will add more items on a continuing basis as they are digitized, researched, and published online.