Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Administrative and preservation metadata > Rights metadata for personal archives

Rights metadata for personal archives


Chapter 09 Legal issues describes the kinds of Intellectual Property Rights which archivists need to be aware of when collecting and managing digital archives. Copyright is the most important of these because all of the material in a digital archive is likely to be covered by copyright law. Some items may also be subject to additional permissions and constraints on use which have been granted by licence. In some cases these will be licences agreed between the repository and the rights holder, and in others they might be licences, such as Creative Commons licences, which have already been attached to items within an archive by its creator; legally binding contracts or licences can override copyright law.

Copyright restrictions have an important bearing on two of the core functions of a digital archive:

Paradigm therefore recommends obtaining explicit permission from the principal rights holder in each archive (usually the donor or depositor) to make multiple copies for preservation purposes and to establish acceptable access terms for researchers; this should form part of the negotiation at accession and should be documented in the resulting donation or deposit agreement. Any permissions and constraints granted in a donation or deposit agreement should be fully documented in the rights metadata which accompanies a digital archive (and the component objects which make up that archive) throughout its lifecycle in the repository; the agreement or licence itself is a separate legally binding document (usually in hard copy format) which is described by, but not part of, the rights metadata.

However, obtaining a licence from the principal rights holder does not take into account the large number of other rights holders (often hundreds or even thousands) who are likely to be represented in any typical digital or hybrid personal archive. While archivists may be able to obtain similar permissions from other major rights holders in a collection (e.g. the most significant correspondents of the archive's creator), they will usually have to rely on copyright law and its 'fair dealing' provisions when managing the rest of the material in a digital archive. The rights metadata for a digital object or collection should therefore also include information about the material's copyright status.

Recording rights information like this about digital objects is of crucial importance, both to:

Karen Coyle (a metadata expert and former employee at the California Digital Library), has proposed that detailed copyright metadata for each digital object or collection of digital objects be created. Based on registration forms used by the U.S. Copyright Office, she suggests that the following main areas be addressed in this metadata:

Unlike published books, which carry details of publication date and other copyright information, archival material does not come with such codified information. In order to produce a full copyright record, some research may need to be undertaken in addition to extracting relevant information from the digital object itself. Digital archivists are unlikely to have the resources to gather such information about the thousands of digital objects in their collections: unlike bibliographic data, which can be shared, archives are unique. Metadata extraction tools could lessen the burden if adapted to output some of the required data; even so, the file metadata that might be extracted - such as creator names and dates - is not always accurate and will probably require review.