Need a Creative Commons-Licensed Image? Germany's Saxon State and University Library Has a Million

Bildschirmabdruck der Startseite der Digitalen Sammlung der SLUB

Screenshot from the homepage of the Digital Collection at the SLUB Dresden.

The Saxon State and University Library (SLUB) in Dresden has now made large parts of its digital collection available under the Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 licence.

Creative Commons licences are simple tools by which an author is able to grant the public specific usage rights to their work. They come with different terms and conditions; the CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence held by the SLUB Dresden allows the collection to be used for commercial purposes, and also for changes to be made, providing that the source is cited and the content is in turn made available under the same licence. 

This opens up a whole variety of options for using the collection, which contains one of only three preserved Mayan manuscripts along with Oriental manuscripts. The SLUB collection comprises 72,365 titles, 88,268 volumes, and over 1.5 million media items. Around 75 percent of the artifacts in the collection will be under the Creative Commons licence in the future. Some exceptions include digitised objects from foreign installations or objects that cannot be freely distributed due to other statutory regulations and agreements. 

The SLUB Dresden is one of the leading digitisation centres in the public domain, providing important content for both the German and European Digital Library (Europeana). They explain the motives for taking this step on their blog. 

Wir sind davon überzeugt, dass das kulturelle und wissenschaftliche Erbe der Bibliotheken am besten genutzt werden kann, wenn es möglichst frei im Internet verfügbar ist. Auch die SLUB selbst profitiert bei der Entwicklung neuer Dienste von offenen Lizenzen (…). Entsprechend sollen die digitalisierten Bestände der SLUB ebenfalls offen und für innovative Projekte optimal verwertbar sein. Künftig sind unsere Digitalen Sammlungen einschließlich der Bilddatenbank der Deutschen Fotothek daher so weit als möglich unter einer Lizenz veröffentlicht, die der Definition für Offenes Wissen (Open Definition) entspricht.Wir sind uns sicher, dass sich die gleichermaßen berechtigten Interessen nach größtmöglicher Offenheit wie nach angemessener Vergütung schöpferischer Leistungen im Bereich von Wissenschaft und Forschung gut miteinander vereinbaren lassen.

We are certain that the cultural and scientific heritage of the libraries can be best utilised when it can be freely obtained online. SLUB itself also benefits from the development of new services offered by open licences […]. Accordingly, the digitised SLUB files should also be open and and offer optimum use for innovative projects, and it is for this reason that our Digital Collections, including the Deutsche Fotothek image database, will be published as widely as possible under a licence that corresponds with Open Definition in the future. We believe that the justified interest in the greatest possible amount of openness, along with an adequate level of compensation for creative services in the field of science and research, can be well reconciled.

Options for commercial use

Speculation is already underway on the Flurfunk Dresden website as to how the collection could be used in the future:

Darunter findet sich zum Beispiel die “Bibliotheca Gastronomica”, eine Sammlung alter Kochbücher. Mit der neuen Lizenz könnte man diese problemlos selbst zu einer Publikation machen und das fertige Produkt auch verkaufen – vorausgesetzt, man bietet die Inhalte unter den gleichen Lizenzbedingungen an (und wehrt sich also nicht, wenn jemand die Idee kopiert oder weiterentwickelt). Da es sich um digitales Material handelt, wäre z.B. auch möglich, aus den alten Rezepten eine kostenpflichtige Smartphone-App zu machen. Denkbar wäre auch, den Dresden Codex als eBook mit Übersetzung herauszugeben. Oder das Wagner-Material zu nehmen und…

The collection includes, for example, the “Bibliotheca Gastronomica”; a collection of antique cookbooks. With the new licence, you could easily put this together and make your own publication, and even sell the finished product – provided that you offer the contents under the same licencing terms (and that you do not resist if somebody copies or further develops the idea). Because this concerns digital material, it would also be possible to make a paid smartphone app from the antique recipes, for example. It would also be conceivable that the Dresden Codex could be published in translation as an eBook. Or to take Wagner material and…

Here are a few works from the digital SLUB Dresden collection under the CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence. SLUB's website is available in English and German. 

The only publicly available Mayan manuscript, known as the “Dresden Maya Codex”, is part of the collection. The manuscript is 39 pages written on both sides and with a total length of 3.96 m. It contains ritual and divination calendars, astronomical tables, lunar and solar eclipses and weather and harvest predictions.


Page from the Maya Manuscript from the SLUB Dresden digital collection. CC-BY-SA-4.0

Oriental manuscripts are also part of what's available online. This collection chiefly contains Ottoman, Arabic and Persian scripts, along with numerous works in the Tibetan, Mongolian and Hebrew languages.

Documents from German history are also to be found in the collection, such as the Sachsenspiegel, a book of law from the 14th century, or documents from the history of technology. Music fans, too, will find something for them: works by Richard Wagner, including the original manuscript of the Das Liebesmahl der Apostel orchestral piece, the first edition of the Tannhäuser-Partitur along with selected libretti, theoretical papers, handwritten letters and premiere voice parts from the Fliegenden Holländer by Richard Wagner at the Vienna State Opera.


Richard Wagner “Der Fliegende Holländer”. From the  SLUB Dresden digital collection. CC-BY-SA-4.0

The Deutsche Fotothek (German photo collection) also contains thousands of photographs, maps, sketches and so on from various centuries by influential photographers.

Rosswein, Saxony, in 1928: Hulda Hanisch in her living room. From the SLUB Dresden Deutschen Fotothek. CC-BY-SA-4.0

Rosswein, Saxony, in 1928: Hulda Hanisch in her living room. From the SLUB Dresden Deutschen Fotothek. CC-BY-SA-4.0

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