Open Access encompasses a holistic and interdependent set of legal, philosophical, policy, and production conditions for an organization.

Open Access involves releasing works under a permissive license.1 Open Access content and cultural resources are free of most copyright and licensing restrictions and are often available to a user without a fee. For the underlying cultural resource or its digital content to be Open Access, the copyright holder grants everyone the ability to copy, use, and build upon the work without restriction, or it is in the worldwide public domain.2

Open Access encompasses a holistic and interdependent set of legal, philosophical, policy, and production conditions for an organization.

Even if members of an organization are unable to make objects themselves available under an Open Access policy, due to copyright status or other restrictions, they can still include annotations, along with identifying and descriptive metadata as part of the Open Access release. As platforms for the display and download of 3D cultural resources grow and evolve, it will become increasingly important for cultural institutions to develop policies governing the entry, publishing, and export of metadata. A useful piece of metadata that could help as 3D model cultural resources proliferate in copies and derivatives is a Globally Unique Identifier (GUID) for the object. Institutions can then link various collections of data together with Digital Object Identifiers (DOI), mapping those DOIs to the object’s GUID.3 Interoperable and portable metadata are most helpful across systems and use cases.

The key is to consider Open Access at the outset, including how the Open Access policy will apply to the object and any metadata associated with the object. Many more organizations can participate in building a global cultural commons today by updating existing contracts and work-for-hire agreements (in jurisdictions where such agreements are appropriate) for creators to make content open from the outset, rather than having to wait decades for the works to enter the public domain or try to renegotiate the terms long after initial production. Institutions often have a limited perspective on Open Access, viewing it as relevant only to cultural works from the historical past. Open Access can also apply to assets in contemporary production. This is achieved by implementing more permissive contract and licensing procedures for new works of creative production with contemporary cultural resources.

The speed of digital content creation is fast and accelerating, and your organization’s agreements, policies, and digital infrastructure need to keep up. Open Access can help your organization be agile and future-ready with content made, stored, and deployed through multiple platforms and systems.

2.1 What Are You Providing Access To?

Your Open Access program provides access to various cultural resources. The nature of those resources depends on the defining characteristics, contexts, locations, and situations of your organization. Three categories of cultural resources, as conceived of and defined by the authors, are:

2.1.1 Events

An event is an activated occurrence accomplished by humans, nature, or generative artificial intelligence. While these events happen in a specific time and place, they can be documented in a wide variety of ways, from written accounts, to photographs, to conceptual frameworks (e.g., CIDOC-CRM), to 3D digital content.

2.1.2 Environments

An environment is a place, setting, site, or structure made and affected by human, natural, or computationally generative activity.

2.1.3 Objects

An object is an intangible, such as a dance performed at a specific time and place, or tangible, such as a manuscript, manifestation with cohesive properties that may be animate or inanimate, made by humans, generative artificial intelligence, or nature. Objects exist in many forms and types. Documents, which are records that take a form in media, are included within the context of objects for this publication.

2.2 Consider Notions of Heritage with Cultural Resources

When preparing to implement digital content production and Open Access programs, it is important to consider notions of heritage with respect to cultural resources. Heritage is a concept that for some may elicit celebration or pride and reflect on a sense of tradition, while for others, heritage is linked to problematic practices such as entitled inheritance, hypernationalism, patrimony, and provincialism.

What could an accessible and inclusive notion of heritage look like? Consider how cultural resources might be broadly utilized as a means to inspire and enable many people, regardless of origin, affinity, ability, or difference. Examine how cultural resources could help people to see themselves and the rest of the world from new points of view beyond their own affiliations and ancestors to empathetically engage others. Explore how cosmopolitan and nuanced understandings of cultural resources can foster connections among people, cultures, and the world at large, rather than being valued in and of themselves or as the sole province of one person or group.4 Consider why some cultural resources lend themselves to Open Access more than others, in consultation with relevant stakeholders and communities.

Discerning ethical positions on heritage and cultural resources is a consultative process that includes staff, communities, and stakeholders. Sharing the outcome of that process publicly is an important task to complete prior to digital content creation. This is especially true in the Open Access context, where digitized cultural works may be re-used downstream by other content creators and users acting independently from your organization, its contexts, and its relationships with stakeholders.

2.3 Open Access Drives An Organization’s Mission and Empowers Its Vision

Open Access is one of the most important priorities of any 21st-century cultural organization. Many institutions have priorities for public engagement and service as core elements of their missions. This commitment to service extends to both commercial and non-commercial entities related to an organization, including individuals, academics, and corporations, as well as nongovernmental and community organizations.

Open Access leverages the collaborative, distributed, innovative, and scalable possibilities of sharing data and media assets on the internet to empower an organization’s own vision.5 It also fuels the creative visions of makers across the globe to create, remix, and make new expressions in the form of products and services. William Griswold, director and president of The Cleveland Museum of Art, in speaking about the museum’s mission and its commitment to Open Access, stated:

If our goal is to make the museum’s great comprehensive collections—of art from every period and from every corner of the globe—universally accessible and free of charge to audiences of all ages, regardless of where they live; if our objective is to facilitate the dissemination of new knowledge; if we are committed to transparency, to fostering creativity, to engaging communities within and far beyond our region, then there is almost nothing we can do that would have greater impact. With this move to Open Access, we have transformed not only access to the CMA’s collection but also its usability inside and outside the walls of our museum. Whenever, wherever, and however the public wishes to use, re-use, remix, or reinvent the objects that we hold, our collection is available—as it should be—for we are but caretakers of these objects, which belong to the artistic legacy of humankind.6

To put it directly and simply, Open Access is mission and vision critical for any cultural organization and their partners today.

2.4 What Does Open Access Achieve For A Cultural Organization?

2.4.1 Increased Engagement with Cultural Resources

Open Access increases engagement with cultural resources by closing the gap between discovery and re-use of resources by users, allowing users to sidestep burdensome, unnecessarily costly, and inefficient rights and permissions processes in order to engage with a cultural resource they discover.7 Open Access cultural resources propagate across sites and into communities, significantly increasing the likelihood that a member of the public will come into contact with them in the near term after launch,8 on an institution’s own hosted platform, or with the long-tail in partnership with organizations such as Creative Commons,9 Internet Archive, and Wikimedia.

For example, Wikimedia users have viewed works from The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Open Access collection over 565 million times since 2017.10 The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Open Access collection had over 8 million views in its first year alone.11 Works from the Rijksmuseum Open Access collection—an early leader—have been viewed almost 2 billion times.12 The numbers demonstrate availability and reach through partnership on platforms focused on dedicated user communities with popular appeal and wider awareness.

2.4.2 Cost Savings and Reprioritization

A key incentive for cultural organizations to do Open Access is cost savings and reprioritization of staff time, labor, and tools. The cost of operating a rights and permissions program often exceeds associated revenue because of staff salaries, benefits, and inefficiencies in the process of administering policies and fulfilling requests.13 Licensing simply does not generate net revenue for most cultural resource stewards and creators, including cultural organizations.

While an Open Access program will require new upfront investments, those investments will result in long-term benefits.

Staff tasks and roles formerly dedicated to rights and permissions processes can be reassigned to more productive and useful tasks that add value to the content and context of cultural resources. This can include improving data, such as creating additional metadata, alt tags and text, verbal descriptions, and translations. Institutions can also devote resources to including bibliographic and citation data in databases associated with cultural resource items to augment knowledge about the items through publications. Improving the informational quality of cultural resources gives them greater potential and more agency when utilized by a broad spectrum of content creators.

2.4.3 New Creative and Economic Opportunities

Open Access can provide new creative and economic opportunities for organizations or independent content creators. Many cultural institutions also have businesses within them, such as brand, licensing, and trademark, as well as merchandising and retail. Cultural institutions operating businesses in an Open Access context need to think differently, take new approaches, and abandon highly controlling licensing agreements with limited terms.14 An Open Access marketplace is more competitive and free as makers have to inspire engagement and purchases through the quality of their product without the shield of restricted licensing frameworks. Innovative applications of digital content products, empowered by Open Access, can accelerate potential profits in the digital economy, especially in partnership with organizations and influencers that magnify the customer engagement with your brands.

Notable examples of new product innovation include the Rijksmuseum Rijksstudio Awards and National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst) Art Jewels contest with Shapeways. Both initiatives leveraged Open Access programs to increase interactions with the collections and drive revenue. These fall within the realm of seeking to update the traditional museum merchandise and retail offering with items for sale in the physical and online stores.

More accessible marketplaces are available on platforms like Sketchfab, MyMiniFactory, Thingiverse, and Adobe Stock 3D, where 3D models and prints can be purchased. Prints in this case frequently carry on the traditional cultural resource role of sculpture, while models in digital form can be used in other formats, such as mixed reality experiences,15 augmented reality mobile applications, and video games. Organizations should seek to collaborate with these new sellers for brand and marketing partnerships, and to deliver their 3D models to more audiences than could be achieved alone to align with user communities and incentivize new growth. These collaborations can be built on the strength of the organization’s brand, instead of a model that purports to license works that are already in the public domain.16 The technological reproducibility and remixing of culture has increased at global scale, demonstrating that positions of control and ownership of information assets like 3D models are misaligned if not mythical at this point.17

Some may see new platforms as undermining revenue generation. However, changes in economics and technology have revealed that we are in a post-scarcity18 economy, especially in the context of information products like data and media assets such as 3D models of cultural resources. These assets can be effectively distributed and provided at low cost, nearly ad infinitum if it were not for copyright and other restrictions placed on them. This suggests that a restrictive licensing-based approach to the access and use of content is no longer effective at scaling and sustaining revenue for cultural institutions, which cannot compete at the same level as major multinational brands or entrepreneurial individuals whose earned revenue fuels present growth and invests in the future. In today’s networked world, collaboration with a wide range of communities provides more value to institutions than controlling resources.

There is simply too much competition for potential customers’ time and money in today’s economy for institutions to rely on resource control for success, especially with foundational and building-block resources like 3D models. An organization or creator needs to be working diligently on pursuing new business models with a prudent yet urgent approach to risk-taking. Waiting out the clock on traditional licensing does greater damage to an organization by leaving it further behind in a dynamic and fast-paced marketplace that has embraced remixes and fan-created content to keep a brand relevant and relatable to audiences. Cultural organizations might look to the leadership in the 3D space from the retail sector, whose competitive and market-driven needs urge new technological adoption to meet the desires of customers.19

Digital production tools for cultural resource makers are becoming more accessible and user friendly in terms of platform, process, and price. The rise of 3D will occur alongside further innovations in technology that will make 3D models easier to access and use. In the case of 3D models, cultural organizations need to advance and scale up their 3D digitization programs and licensing frameworks to meet this new landscape and user experience demand. Otherwise, cultural organizations will find themselves in the same place they were with 2D images, with user-generated content having more significant adoption because of its sheer availability and usability. Organizations and their leadership must make critical decisions about how to ramp up 3D model production, with respect to financial and staff resources, whether this is addressed by government, philanthropy, or earned revenue. Institutions themselves are empowered and responsible for taking decisive and earnest action to enhance its capabilities and output for a digitization program. Blaming a lack of investment in digital engagement on external factors is not an appropriate way for an organization to excuse a lack of preparedness or mismanagement. Institutions need to sincerely respond to new cultural and market demands. These decisions are about making prudent choices and priorities. Opportunities are ahead for those with the tenacity to chart new courses creatively and economically for cultural resources.

2.4.4 Potential for Greater Authenticity Through Ubiquity

Open Access cultural resources may have the potential for greater authenticity than closed cultural resources through the amplification of ideas and sources, along with critical interrogation.

Authenticity should be understood primarily through its expressive qualities, rather than nominal properties. Notions regarding a cultural resource’s status as “original” or “copy” do not apply. Identified authorship20 has important legal considerations in some jurisdictions, community importance for others, and is useful information; however, it does not have bearing on the expressive authenticity value of a cultural resource. Expressive authenticity21 is experienced in a cultural resource through its essential communicative agency.22 It is informed by, but not limited to, one cultural context, origin, or mode of interpretation. Expressive authenticity could also be considered as expressive life, in dimensions of “being and behavior”23 and “composed of elements—relationships, memory, aspiration, belief.”24 The expressive authenticity of cultural resources requires us to seek their “significant properties” or those “core attributes…that should resist change over time even as performance environments change” within “blurry” and “boundless” aspects of their performative natures as variable media.25 Cultural resources are thus plastic instruments, able to be utilized by any number of potential users, who apply their intent and take action in multiple and yet undetermined environments or scenarios.

Open Access content can increase the quality and number of citations, links, views, and usages across a global ecosystem of platforms. Institutions have addressed authenticity of 2D images of cultural resources by making their high-quality produced images and metadata available as Open Access to address what is colloquially referred to as the “Yellow Milkmaid Syndrome.”26 This visibility can raise awareness to inform and inspire cultural interpretation and production. Open Access can empower users of the cultural resource content to make new resources and share information at scale and across borders. Open Access too may help humans, and generative artificial intelligence, in pursuing a more inclusive and nuanced truth that expands our capacities to understand through multiple vantage points, manifestations, and sources. The cultural, ecological, economic, and humanistic values of a cultural resource could flourish with its ubiquity via the internet and connected digital tools. Prudently, this potential greater authenticity through ubiquity should be coupled with a process of discernment with respect to use.

Cultural resources, especially those in the worldwide public domain, are the foundations of Open Access and speak to the truth of a shared commons of creation and use. Cultural resources are a wellspring that continually inspire and give life to new forms of creation. Their essences carry on throughout time by being passed between and through humanity and nature - by being incorporated and re-incorporated. As such, cultural resources are not wholly lost or diminished. They may migrate, mix, and recombine to form new entities. 3D models of cultural resources can make new connections and interactive creative manifestations possible for so many around the world through events, environments, and objects with their immersive presences.27 3D models will define new dimensions and build immersive synergistic spaces for cultural resources.

NEXT SECTION What is a 3D Model?


  1. Within the Creative Commons framework, a Creative Commons Attribution license is the most restrictive license that qualifies. However, even that license should be used only if the institution actually holds a copyright in the cultural resource or digitized file. In the absence of a copyright (which will be absent in many cases discussed here), a CC0 Public Domain Dedication should be used. 

  2. Jason Bailey and Neal Stimler, Solving Art’s Data Problem—Part One, Museums, Artnome (April 29, 2019), news/2019/4/29/ solving-arts-data-problem-part-one-museums Other important definitions about Open Access are in the 2003 Berlin Declaration, see Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, last accessed April 16, 2020; the definition provided by Peter Suber in his book Open Access, see Peter Suber, Open Access (2012),; and the definition maintained by Creative Commons, see Open Access, Creative Commons,, last accessed April 16, 2020. 

  3. International DOI Foundation, Driven by DOI, driven_by_doi/ DOI_Marketing_Brochure.pdf, last updated November 21, 2014. For example, the British Museum uses DOIs to track the data and models associated with the Rosetta Stone. See Data for the creation of the Rosetta Stone in 3D, GitHub,, last accessed April 16, 2020. 

  4. See e.g., National Park Service, NPS-28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline, parkhistory/online_books/ nps28/28contents.htm, last updated August 16, 2002. It is also important to consider how Open Access policies might interact with existing concepts of heritage, community autonomy, and cultural sovereignty. As much as possible, Open Access should be a practice that empowers individuals and groups with parity of opportunity, while upholding the principles of liberty, like freedom of conscience and expression. 

  5. Some argue that the core mission of cultural institutions requires adopting open access policies. See, e.g., Passenger Pigeon Manifesto,, last accessed October 15, 2020. 

  6. William Griswold, Introducing Open Access at the CMA: For the Benefit of All the People Forever, Medium (January 23, 2019), introducing-open-access-at-the-cma-for-the-benefit -of-all-the-people-forever-d3cd81964616 

  7. For a review of many institutions’ experiences with Open Access, see Effie Kapsalis, The Impact of Open Access on Galleries, Libraries, Museums, & Archives, Smithsonian Emerging Leaders Development Program (April 27, 2016), default/files/pdfs/ 2016_03_10_OpenCollections_Public.pdf

  8. This contact can even be casual. Popular 3D modeling tutorial creator Andrew Price (Blender Guru) recommends using openly licensed 3D models to help bring unique touches to created interiors. Andrew Price (Blender Guru), How to Make Interiors in Blender (Tutorial), YouTube (at 22:50) (September 21, 2020), watch?v=wrzSrjAY69c& t=1369

  9. Jane Park, CC Search Is out of Beta with 300M Images and Easier Attribution, Creative Commons Blog (April 30, 2019), 

  10. Category Details for Images from Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia, glamtools/baglama2/ #gid=290&month=201911, last accessed April 16, 2020. 

  11. Category Details for Images from Cleveland Museum of Art, Wikimedia, glamtools/baglama2/ #gid=341&month=201908, last accessed April 16, 2020. 

  12. Category Details for Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Wikimedia, glamtools/baglama2/ #gid=113&month=202003, last accessed April 16, 2020. 

  13. Douglas McCarthy, Open Access Arrives at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Europeana Pro (January 23, 2019), open-access-arrives-at-the- cleveland-museum-of-art See also Simon Tanner, Reproduction Charging Models & Rights Policy for Digital Images in American Art Museums: A Mellon Foundation Study, King’s Digital Consultancy Services (August 2004), fileadmin/documents/ pubs/USMuseum_SimonTanner.pdf 

  14. The transition to Open Access may require a long-term effort to renegotiate and restructure third-party agreements that include limitations on Open Access. One of the first steps that many institutions can take to prepare for Open Access is to ensure new agreements do not include restrictions that would prevent the successful launch of an Open Access regime in the future. 

  15. Microsoft In Culture, Le Mont Saint-Michel at MOHAI Seattle, inculture/arts/ le-mont-saint-michel-mixed-reality/, last accessed April 16, 2020. 

  16. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 150th Anniversary brand partnerships brought works from the Met’s collection to limited edition items produced by brand partners. The program is an example of an institution leveraging its own brand to create commercial partnership based on open access content. See Michael Weinberg, New Met Partnership Shows Open Access Can Coexist With Revenue?, (September 3, 2020), blog/2020/09/03/ met-brand-partner/ 

  17. ERA Media, The Myth of Control, Incentive Alignment and How Openness Levels the Playing Field with Jonathan Bryce with Amber Cazzell and Jonathan Bryce, Cazzell Report (February 26, 2020), 

  18. Amber Cazzell, What Post Scarcity Means: Why the Post-Scarcity Economy Is Hard to Reason About, Hackernoon (June 13, 2019), what-post-scarcity-means-7c4d653418f4 

  19. Matt Wisdom, 3D Will Make Retailers a Lot of Money (If They Can Solve These 3 Problems), VentureBeat (October 23, 2019), 2019/10/23/3d-will-make-retailers-a-lot-of-money- if-they-can-solve-these-3-problems/ 

  20. Stuart Jeffrey, Digital heritage objects, authorship, ownership and engagement,_ in _Authenticity and Cultural Heritage in the Age of 3D Digital Reproductions (ed. Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco et al. 2018) 49-59, Authenticity_and_cultural_heritage_in_ the_age_of_3D_digital_reproductions 

  21. Denis Sutton, Authenticity in Art, in The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics_ _Vol. 1. (ed. Jerrold Levinson, 2009) 1-17 oxfordhb/9780199279456.001.0001 

  22. See William Ivins, Prints and Visual Communication (1953) 3, printsandvisualc009941mbp 

  23. Bill Ivey, Arts, Inc. How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights (2008) 23, 9780520267923/arts-inc 

  24. Bill Ivey, Expressive Life, Global Cultural Strategies (February 2016), expressive-life/ 

  25. Dragan Espenschied and Klaus Rechert, 207.1 Fencing Apparently Infinite Objects, 1 Rhizome (September 21, 2018), 

  26. See Harry Verwayen et al., The Problem of the Yellow Milkmaid: A Business Model Perspective on Open Metadata, Europeana Pro (November 2011), Europeana_Professional/ Publications/Whitepaper_2-The_Yellow_Milkmaid.pdf 

  27. Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco et al., Introduction: Why Authenticity Still Matters Today, in Authenticity and Cultural Heritage in the Age of 3D Digital Reproductions (2018) 2, Authenticity_and_cultural_ heritage_in_the_age_of_3D_ digital_reproductions