Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Legal Issues > Intellectual Property Rights

Providing access to digital archives: copyright considerations

Obtaining explicit usage rights for copyrighted material

The right to use a copyrighted material can be obtained by three means

Generally speaking, rightsholders do not wish to sign away their rights, but may happily come to an arrangement whereby the Library administers rights on their behalf. This involves the Library taking responsibility for the interests of the rightsholder when approving requests to publish extracts, or requests to copy, etc. Such an arrangement should be incorporated in the acquisition phase.

Providing access in the reading room

Non-sensitive digital material, which is still in copyright, might be made available to registered readers in a secure search room if they have signed a condition of use form and the donor has given permission for the collection to be opened. Readers would be responsible for not breaching copyright in a similar fashion to current practice in a paper archive.

If born digital copyright material is provided for readers in a search room it would seem prudent to provide access copies in standard read-only formats and/or on specially configured PCs, as this would offer some protection against unlawful copying by readers.

The following practices would normally be regarded as 'fair and lawful' under guidelines on copying of electronic material under fair dealing and library privileges agreed by JISC and the Publishers Association.

Fair and Lawful

Extracted from Copyright for Archivists by Tim Padfield (section 6.1.4):

Unfair and unlawful without prior permission

Extracted from Copyright for Archivists by Tim Padfield (section 6.1.5):

International considerations

It is increasingly likely that personal archives will contain materials created by non-UK nationals, which could have different copyright protections. This could complicate the archivist's assessment of rights and rightsholders in a personal archive, and could make administering and using the archive more difficult. In practice, many countries have signed international treaties which attempt to harmonise intellectual property rights across countries. One example is the Berne Convention; its principle of 'national treatment' means that material created by a citizen of one state enjoys 'national treatment' in another state provided both states are signatories of the treaty. For example, Egypt and the UK are both signatories of the Berne Convention. This means that an email from Egypt in a personal archive in the UK is protected under UK law. For further information on international treaties and their signatories, visit the World Intellectual Property Right Organization (WIPO) website.

It is also increasingly true that readers expect digital resources to be provided across networks. On the face of it, it seems unreasonable that a researcher abroad must visit the Library in person to access the archives which could be accessed remotely in order to avoid breaching intellectual property rights. It is unclear whether existing Digital Rights Management techniques could be harnessed to provide remote reader access in accordance with the law and any agreements with rightsholders.

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Disclaimer: the guidance given in the Paradigm workbook is not legal advice. Legal advice from a solicitor with expertise in the appropriate field should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters.