In perhaps what is a boon to historians, researchers, bloggers and image enthusiasts, American academian, Kalev Leetaru is creating a searchable database of 12 million historic copyright-free images. Leetaru says that anybody and everybody can copy, paste and use these images for any purpose. Do remember that many of these images are of historic and archival value and would cost you a bomb if you did want to buy them for other sources.
Kalev Leetaru has already uploaded 2.6 million pictures to Flickr, which are searchable thanks to tags that have been automatically added. Leetaru's database contains photos and drawings which are are sourced from more than 600 million library book pages scanned in by the Internet Archive organisation. As said above, these images of ancient artifacts and historic value were difficult difficult to access up until now.
Mr Leetaru said digitisation projects had so far focused on words and ignored pictures. Which means that the images are tagged with proper labels making the search easy for a wannabe downloader.
"For all these years all the libraries have been digitising their books, but they have been putting them up as PDFs or text searchable works," he told the BBC. "They have been focusing on the books as a collection of words. This inverts that. Stretching half a millennia, it's amazing to see the total range of images and how the portrayals of things have changed over time." Interestingly Mr Leetaru wrote his own software to work around the way the books had originally been digitised.
Leetaru was able to circumvent the copyright provisions by uploading images only upto 1922 the year when copyright restrictions started. He said that these huge database will range images from 1500 to 1922. Mr Leetaru began work on the project while researching communications technology at Georgetown University in Washington DC as part of a fellowship sponsored by Yahoo, the owner of photo-sharing service Flickr.
The Internet Archive had used an optical character recognition (OCR) program to analyse each of its 600 million scanned pages in order to convert the image of each word into searchable text.
So next time you want a historic image, you know were to find one.