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Copyright on Campus: Copyright in Special Collections

Information and resource guide for those interested in how copyright affects teaching, learning, research, and scholarly publishing.

Resource: Copyright & the Public Domain

Resource: Responsible Access Workflows

Librarians at UC-Berkeley have developed a series of decision-tree diagrams to help navigate copyright, privacy, and ethical issues for a variety of collections.

Useful Forms

The University of Michigan Library has developed an excellent library of forms to adapt for oral history, deeds of gift, etc.

Understanding Rights Metadata

Why do we need copyright metadata?

Rights metadata serves three major purposes:

  1. Most importantly, communicates to user any known legal restrictions they should be aware of before repurposing items.
  2. With use of standardized statements, can make it much easier to filter only for items that can be legally repurposed.
  3. Helps confirm for future staff that rights have been evaluated, even if other documentation is lost.

What does copyright metadata include?

Each rights field should include:

  1. At minimum, a text statement with any available information about whether or not the item is in copyright in the United States and, if it is protected, who owns the copyright. It should also be clear why the Libraries believe it is legal for us to post the content (e.g. fair use, permission from donor, or UF owns the rights). This statement should follow the examples below as closely as possible.
  2. Whenever possible, a URL to one of the following:
    1. statement (see examples below)
    2. Creative Commons license. This should only be used in cases where the item is (1) in copyright and (2) where the copyright owner (including UF) would like to clarify that the item may be used under one of the available licenses.

What related information should I include?

When needed, an additional note covering rights-related or ethical concerns:

  1. Culturally sensitive:
  2. Potentially harmful:
  3. Privacy concerns:

Ownership and permissions

One of the most complicated aspects of special collections, including their digital counterparts online, is understanding who owns rights to material and when permissions are needed. It helps to understand ways that collections come under the stewardship of a library or archive: 

  • Typically, a deed of gift–which may be a very formal agreement or a relatively informal one, but should be in writing–is signed by the person who owns the physical collections or copies of digital files. The deed of gift may transfer intellectual property, or copyright, to the collecting institution, or it may only grant certain rights such as permission to digitize and preserve materials online.
  • In some cases, the donor (e.g., a photographer) also owns the intellectual property or copyright to the material, but in many cases they may only hold rights to some items in the collection. For instance, copyright in letters or emails written to the donor by other people would remain with the original authors.
  • This means that even if the donor signs away copyright to the library, they can only give away rights they own themselves. The library may not hold rights to everything.

This means that when it comes to granting permission for researchers, students, filmmakers, journalists, and organizations to use the material, the collecting institution should be careful not to claim rights they do not hold. Staff may respond to inquiries with information about copyright, and may urge the requester to evaluate copyright status and fair use for themselves. But unless library staff are sure their institution holds copyright, there is no legal argument for granting permission; any fees for reproductions should be compensation for staff time and labor, not for licensing.

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