Archivists and Copyright

Tracing copyright owners and asking permission.
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Archivists and Copyright

Post by cannonking »

In many archives I have visited, one is asked to fill out a disclaimer form in which you agree to ask permission from the archive before reproducing any items photographed within. Several have also claimed ownership over items which are clearly not in copyright or something they could own copyright for (nineteenth century government documents in a local county archive, for example).

Unless an archive has specifically been gifted the copyright to a work though, is it not the case that they have absolutely no legal right/ownership of the intellectual property just because they hold the physical copy?
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Re: Archivists and Copyright

Post by AndyJ »

To be fair to archivists, given the quantity of materials they hold and the complexity1 of the law in this area, it is usually easiest to assume that everything they hold is in copyright and follow a standard procedure. There are several books2 which have been published specifically for the guidance of archivists, but to be honest they don't really make things that much clearer. By getting a user to sign a disclaimer the archive transfers the liability for any subsequent infringement to that user. If you are confident that no copyright exists, then you are perfectly at liberty to do whatever you wish with the copy of the item given to you by the archive.

This, of course, is distinct from the issue raised in one of your other threads about whether archives, museums and libraries are justified in claiming that they own copyright in some of their holdings. If the works are unpublished, and have been bequeathed to the museum etc, as you mention, then probably the claim is justified. However in most other cases, such claims are at best, dubious. Ultimately of course if an institution can control access to a work in its safekeeping then it can also specify the rules and procedures governing access! In my experience it's not worth arguing with an archivist in such situations, especially if you need their co-operation to find items in their holdings.

1. For a graphic display of the complex issues, see this pdf
2. For example: Copyright for Archivists and Records Managers by Tim Padfield and Copyright: A Handbook for Archivists by JB Foster and MR Post
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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