Among these was one from the British Library, whom I know to be bitterly hostile to anyone seeing or using their holdings:
This had a notice stating that such an image was public domain in the USA, and citing the following 1999 court case:
What this seems to mean is that you can buy a picture of any page in any ancient or medieval manuscript from any library you like and the image is public domain in the USA. You can then upload it onto your website, or Wikipedia, or wherever.
This, if true, is revolutionary. Libraries and museums have sought prevent the circulation of photographs of out of copyright material by claiming that the photograph is copyright. The damage that this has done to public access to their holdings is incalculable.
The page also referred to UK law, which is generally drawn up without reference to the public interest. The article expressed an opinion that even UK law would not protect such images. Well, I have been enquiring in the ABTAPL list of smaller theological libraries, and been told that no case law exists in the UK, but that the opinion of “copyright professionals” is that UK law does allow museums and libraries this dog-in-the-manger right. Apparently no lawsuits have ever been brought, tho, but the “Museums Copyright Group” has made all sorts of very positive statements reiterating copyright. That the public fund these museums so that the public can see these items does not trouble these bureaucrats at all, it seems.
I shall enquire further as to how this works, but I would encourage every US citizen interested in manuscripts to start uploading images. We in the unfree world may not be able to do this; you can.
Postscript: I have written to this “Museums copyright group” and queried whether preventing public access was really what museums were for. I await a reply full of bureacratic evasions!