Licensing Status of Digitized Manuscript Repositories

⇒ This is under ongoing revision. Links need updating and revised terms of use need checking. 

(Skip the introductory prose and jump directly to the inventory.)

BACKGROUND: In anticipation of creating an updated and expanded OER book* version of the online paleography course I created for vHMML, I was curious about the feasibility of creating a richly-illustrated course text covering the history of Latin script from ca. 500-1500 using only public domain images or images with fairly open Creative Commons licenses. I innocently asked Dot Porter, who I know spends a lot of time thinking about the licensing of digitized manuscripts, whether she maintained a list of projects and repositories that offered liberal licensing or public domain high-res images. She said she did not, but she pointed me to the list of repositories and projects maintained by DMMapp (the Sexy Codicology folks) as a list that could serve as the basis for an inventory of licensing statuses. So, as if I didn’t have enough to do in the days just before Christmas 2016, I started clicking on every link in their database to check.

When I first published this page, I had explored just over half the 535 or so repositories and projects listed by DMMapp, so the list below is not complete—though as I have now checked the repositories I’d need most for my project, completing this list may have stalled indefinitely. Rather than list every repository even if its licensing terms are not congenial, I list below only those that allow direct downloading of images of sufficient quality to print from and to zoom in on in digital form in order to work with script and examine details, and offer their images either in the public domain or under Creative Commons BY, BY-SA, or BY-NC licenses. 3/2021: At the moment are a few exceptions in the list, places with apparently-open licensing but iffy download situations, or places whose contradictory information needs further investigation.


⇒ If you know of others not listed here, or have corrections to these listings, let me know!

Public Domain or CC-0

Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum (Rijksstudio)

Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum (The notice that all the images are available under CC-0 is at the top of the page listing and linking all available high-res images. This is a change from the CC-BY-SA licensing announced in a 2013 note, which is still posted in another part of the Digital Walters site.)

Basel, Universitätsbibliothek (e-codices)

London, British Library, Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts  (NB: Many of these images are viewable in detail online but do not download at sufficient resolution. Need to explore further.)

London, Wellcome Library

Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum Open Content Program (FAQ about Getty Open Content

Paris, BNF: BNF medieval MSS I’ve checked in Gallica are listed as Public Domain in the “about” information when you are viewing the digitized manuscript, but they download only in low resolution and this page is full of verbiage restricting rights in various ways.

Philadelphia Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection of Manuscripts

Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania, Rare Book and Manuscript Library 

Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek (e-codices)

Solothurn, Zentralbibliothek (e-codices)

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek

Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY)

Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Papyrology Collection (Link to items containing Latin)

Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh

Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek (Items download as PDFs, but the quality may be sufficient for my purposes, and the willingness to just shoot you the whole MS as a high-quality PDF is admirable.)

Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Biblioteca Digital Hispánica (I have encountered at least some images licensed CC-BY and it looks like good download options are available, though I’ve also happened upon some digital items that are not high-res even online. Needs further exploration.)

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)

Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek (Link is to browse MSS collection, sorted by date.) High-quality JPEG downloads.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

All of the repositories in e-codices except those listed above in the Public Domain section are licensed CC BY-NC 4.0.

Digital Bodleian MSS are CC BY-NC 4.0 except where otherwise noted. (Download quality may be an issue, but this is such an important resource I’m keeping it in the list pending further investigation.)

Cambridge, Cambridge University and College Libraries, Cambridge Digital Library CC BY-NC 3.0 (Not an easy site to use, and it’s not clear how many items have that licensing. Some items I have checked recently are Not Found.)

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)

Lichfield, Lichfield Cathedral Library (St. Chad Gospels and Wycliffe NT only; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. At the moment, it looks like hi-res JPGs are a download option, but they take 4 weeks to prepare—? An April 2020 notice on their home page says a relaunch of the digital collections is coming, with a “largely barrier-free application.” Will need to check back to see what this means.)

Other liberal licensing:

Antwerp, Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience (Items download as PDFs. “Dit mediabestand valt onder de modellicentie voor gratis hergebruik van de Vlaamse overheid. De beherende instelling doet geen afstand van mogelijke intellectuele rechten, maar het mediabestand en de metadata mogen worden hergebruikt voor ongeacht welk doel, gratis en onder minimale restricties. Bronvermelding is noodzakelijk. Indien dit beeld gebruikt wordt in een publicatie, ontvangt de betrokken instelling graag een exemplaar van deze publicatie voor opname in de eigen collectie.”)

*re the book: I am undecided at this point about via what channels and in how many forms this book would be made available—decisions that will affect and be affected by the choice of image sources. Stay tuned for blog posts on that subject.