The V&A is not the only one to have signed such an agreement for distributing its collection. Jstor, my go-to resource for full-text, now includes an image bank, called ARTstor, which distributes the collection images for many museums in the US and UK. It might be described as a "nonprofit digital image library for education and scholarship," but access is by subscription only. If you are not a member of an institution that subscribes (and to my knowledge, the University of Leicester, for example, is not), then you are out of luck and out of pocket. I haven't done the legwork necessary to check, but I simply do not know whether all the collections include their images freely online, or rely solely on ARTstor for access; also, I have no way of knowing whether there are images not available to the general public that are part of ARTstor. This would make sense - what else, apart from the amassing of images, would be ARTstor's value-added contribution?
Don't get me wrong - I am not fear-mongering here. I understand why museums do this. Although access to collections is part of their public responsibility, it costs money. Good images, and a good searchable database, are expensive to produce and maintain; it is, no doubt, tempting to stop reinventing the wheel and to go with a provider who promises an infrastructure and a built-in audience, and will pay you for it, to boot! But does this compromise the ideal of access? Or, is the ideal of access unrealistic in a world that expects digital access to everything? What do you think?