Digitizing projects by cultural institutions and individuals worldwide allow open acces to historical treasures and interesting, visual snippets from the past. As these digitizations catch up with copyrights expirations, more and more images are wandering into the public domain.

The following links are useful for your further research. Please note that not all of the listed websites use public domain imagery only. It is advised to check the license of each file you’re interested in, especially if you plan to use images commercially.

Open Knowledge / OpenGLAM / The Public Domain Review

Open Knowledge is a non-profit organization promoting open content, open knowledge and open data. One of its projects is OpenGLAM, an initiative that promotes free and open access to digital cultural heritage held by galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Part of OpenGLAM is The Public Domain Review, a beautifully curated website where researchers introduce interesting images, films, audio files and books from the public domain.

OpenGLAM has a very useful listing of Open Collections, and The Public Domain Review published a Guide to Finding Interesting Public Domain Works Online.

Wikimedia Commons

Images hosted on Wikipedia and Wikimedia are not necessarily in the public domain worldwide, especially if they were not uploaded by collaborating institutions. It is advised you double-check. Read the credits page carefully and pay attention to the file history. When in doubt, contact the institution that houses the original, and inquire there.

However, the official position of the Wikipedia Foundation regarding public domain is that all (faithful) reproductions of public domain works should be considered to be in the public domain.

Flickr: The Commons

Museums, libraries and archives worldwide participate in Flickr’s The Commons program, with a strong focus on historical photography. The images are generally without any copyright restrictions, although it is recommended to check the license of each individual file.


The Dutch Rijksmuseum has an extensive database with high-resolution artworks, book illustrations and photographs all made available online. Users can create their own albums through the “Rijksstudio” and are encouraged to get creative with the material. All images that can be downloaded are in the public domain.

Public Domain and Intellectual Property Rights

The Public Domain Manifesto

James Boyle: The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (E-Book in PDF format)

Richart Stallman: Copyleft (Free Software Foundation)

More interesting Links

These are some other websites I use to find images online. Please note that not all of these links are to public domain databases. Refer to each file that you’re interested in to find out about its licensing.

Biodiversity Heritage Library on Flickr

The Walters Art Museum

Getty’s Open Content Program


BibliOdyssey (and peacay’s Flickr)

The Alchemy Website

Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscrips Library

pictura paedagogica online (German)

…to be continued…