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The Flickr Commons

Posted by Matt on December 16, 2013         Tagged with: copyright

Since I was being all belligerent about fair dealing a few weeks ago, I today I would talk about a less contentious copyright topic. Something we can (almost) all get behind and agree on: the Flickr Commons.

The Flickr Commons is a repository of images submitted by museums and archives which are, or are believed to be, in the public domain. Which is to say the copyright on the photos has expired and you can do anything you want with them. The material in the Commons can be a fascinating look into the history of various cities and institutions at a time when photography involved a lot more than just whipping out your smartphone. If you're not careful, the rabbit hole that is the Commons can be every bit as time-consuming as Wikipedia.

By my quick count, there are over 75 different institutions who currently maintain a collection in the Commons. Consistent with the Canadian focus of this blog, I'm going to feature some photos from some of the Canadian institutions, though I encourage you to spend some time exploring some of the collections from elsewhere.

There appear to be three Canadian institutions maintaining collections in the Commons: the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Nova Scotia Archives and the Vancouver Public Library.

The Law Society photos are mostly portraits of Ontario lawyers and judges, but there's a decent set of postcards, like this one of Osgoode Hall:

Osgoode Hall, Toronto

There is also a set of pictures documenting a 1924 trans-Atlantic trip to England. It's believed the two lawyers on the trip were on their way to London to present oral arguments before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Canada's highest court at the time.

Trans-Atlantic voyage to England

The Nova Scotia Archives collection manages to be somewhat more interesting, simply by virtue of not being mostly comprised of headshots of rich old white guys. There's a number of old Christmas cards and lobster wrappers and ships, but my personal favorite is the wanted posters. Like this guy, who you will recognize by his smart appearance and the fact that he walks erect:

Police Notice.

This photo of the Sambro Island Lighthouse is pretty great as well:

Sambro Island Lighthouse in winter

The Vancouver Public Library collection is so good I don't even know where to begin. So here's Granville Street, 1951:

Theatre Row VPL_81525A

And I love this compilation of neon street signs, created through the magic of multiple exposures:

Neon Signs- multiple exposuresVPL_81143

(This post was inspired by this Slaw post about the LSUC collection).