As we gear up for the fall semester, I think back to some of my favorite projects from the spring and wonder about the opportunities to come in the months ahead. One of my favorite memories was securing the rights for students in NELC 330/550, “The University, the Museum, and the Middle East,” to use Penn Museum images on Wikipedia pages they edited.

The assignment was the brainchild of Dr. Heather Sharkey, historian in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the instructor for NELC 330/500. As part of a collaboration with the Wiki Education Project, she wanted students to conduct original research on objects in the Penn Museum and edit Wikipedia articles to include official images of those objects.

Uploading images into Wikimedia Commons – the media repository for Wikipedia – has more implications than simply posting an image. An item uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons must be in the public domain or must be freely licensed. Once an item is in Wikimedia Commons, anyone can use it or modify it. We would need the explicit permission of the Penn Museum before uploading any of their images.

Sarah Wipperman, Scholarly Communications and Digital Repository Librarian and our resident copyright expert, sat down with Dr. Sharkey, representatives of the Penn Museum, and myself to talk through some potential solutions. We discussed a precedent that some other museums and archives have done – providing access to low-resolution (small) versions of Penn Museum images for use in Wikimedia Commons. This solution satisfied everyone: the class could illustrate their entries with official images of museum objects, and the Penn Museum continued to hold exclusive rights over its own high-resolution images.

I then met with the class to illustrate how to upload the images to Wikimedia Commons, embed them in one’s Wikipedia page, and give proper attribution – credit – for each image. For example, the Wikipedia entry for Hagop Kevorkian, edited by the class, has an image of a painted vessel captioned, “Courtesy of the Penn Museum, image no. 296835, object no. NEP90.” We discussed the particular negotiations that allowed us to upload these images, and the copyright conditions under which other images may or may not be uploaded.

Kevorkian_Vase_from_Rey,_Iran
Vessel image from the Wikipedia entry for Hagop Kevorkian. Courtesy of the Penn Museum, image no. 296835, object no. NEP90.

This was a multifaceted collaboration: one between an academic class and the Penn Museum. It was a collaboration within Penn Libraries, too: between the Digital Scholarship and Learning Design teams, both situated within the Teaching, Research, and Learning directorate. It’s an illustration of how people with a variety of different skills and expertise can build something new around a shared interest.

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