NPG adopts Creative Commons licence

Last month the National Portrait Gallery changed their image licencing policy to allow free downloads for non-commercial and academic purposes.

Writing in Museums Journal today Rebecca Atkinson explained that:

The change means that more than 53,000 low-resolution images are now available free of charge to non-commercial users through a standard Creative Commons licence.

Atkinson quotes Tom Morgan, head of rights and reproductions at the NPG saying”

“Obviously this is quite complex – on one hand, if people are making money from a museum’s content then it’s right the museum should share that profit but we also want to support academic and education activity. So we took the opportunity to look at the way in which we could deliver this service and automate it.”

A new automated interface on all the NPG’s collection item pages now leads users to a “Use this image page” with links to request three different licences. Each license is accompanied by clear and concise information on how the image can be used:

Professional licence: can be used in books, films, TV, merchandise, commercial and promotional activities, display and exhibition.

Academic licence: can be used in your research paper, classroom or scholarly publication.

Creative Commons licence: can be used in non-commercial, amateur projects (e.g. blogs, local societies and family history).

In order to apply for a Professional or Academic licence users must register to use the NPG’s lightbox and then apply for the appropriate license. For print works, the academic license covers images for non-commercial publications with a print run of less than 4000, images must also be used inside the publication.

To access the lower resolution Creative Common’s licensed image, users are not required to register, but they must submit a valid e-mail address before they can download the image in the form of zip file. The images themselves do not appear to carry any embedded license information or watermarks, but they are accompanied by the following text file

Please find, attached, a copy of the image, which I am happy to supply to you with permission to use solely according to your licence, detailed at

It is essential that you ensure images are captioned and credited as they are on the Gallery’s own website (search/find each item by NPG number at

This has been supplied to you free of charge. I would be grateful if you would please consider making a donation at in support of our work and the service we provide.

Now I should probably point out that I have a personal interest in this change of policy as I recently contacted the NPG to request permission to use some of their images in an academic publication. I was delighted when they pointed me to the new automated licence interface and confirmed that the images in question could be used free of charge. What really struck me at the time though was what a valuable resource this could prove to be for open education, as the NPG has effectively released 53,000 free and clearly licensed potential open educational resources into the public domain. The CC license chosen by the gallery may be on the restrictive side, but it certainly demonstrates a growing and very welcome commitment to openness from the cultural heritage sector that could be of direct benefit to education.

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