Embracing the Inevitable

The approach taken by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam might very well be the approach some businesses should embrace with their content:

Many museums post their collections online, but the Rijksmuseum here has taken the unusual step of offering downloads of high-resolution images at no cost, encouraging the public to copy and transform its artworks into stationery, T-shirts, tattoos, plates or even toilet paper.

The museum, whose collection includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mondrian and van Gogh, has already made images of 125,000 of its works available throughRijksstudio, an interactive section of its Web site. The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available, said Taco Dibbits, the director of collections at the Rijksmuseum.

Pretty cool huh? If you think about it the museum is kind of doing what companies do with their customers and biggest fans: get them to promote their brand by plastering logoes and other corporate images all over shirts, cups, etc. What's obviously different is that the museum is having them slather their unique "products" on those various and sundry items and some artists or for-profit publishers might not like that. Also, as the museum's director points out, the museum is a different position than a for-profit entity:

“We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property,” Mr. Dibbits said in an interview.

But in the next breath he makes a very good argument for why companies might very well embrace the museum's approach even if they own the subject matter:

“‘With the Internet, it’s so difficult to control your copyright or use of images that we decided we’d rather people use a very good high-resolution image of the ‘Milkmaid’ from the Rijksmuseum rather than using a very bad reproduction,” he said, referring to that Vermeer painting from around 1660.

Of course this approach won't work for everyone, but the combination of free publicity and quality control make it a viable consideration for many content creators.

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