Research Blog Series: Archives, Digitisation & Copyright

Kicking off the 2nd theme in our Research Blog SeriesGLAM Sector and Openness – Victoria Stobo discusses her PhD research at the University of Glasgow


Project: Archives, Digitisation, and Copyright (PhD Study)

Investigators: Prof. Ronan Deazley (now Queen’s University, Belfast), Prof. Martin Kretschmer, Dr. Ian G Anderson and Ms Victoria Stobo (all University of Glasgow)

What did your research aim to do?
Understand the effect of UK copyright law on the digitisation of archive collections.

How did you do it?
The research used mixed methods to explore the challenges facing archivists in relation to the digitisation and making available of collections containing third party copyright works. A questionnaire survey was distributed to archive services based in the UK. I also conducted semi-structured interviews and collected project data at 11 archive and library institutions, building in-depth case studies on specific digitisation projects. This data was combined with a review of the literature, to understand how archivists balance their responsibilities in regards to the law with their public interest mission of making collections accessible.

What are your key findings?
While it is true that archivists are risk-averse when dealing with third party rights holders in collections, there is evidence to suggest they might take more risks with guidance and support. For example, stakeholders and senior management are often more risk averse than the archivists involved in digitisation projects, but they can be persuaded with evidence. This would lead to more 20th century material being made available online, avoiding the ‘20th century black hole’ highlighted in the Europeana dataset in 2015.

My research has shown that the majority of rights holders that engage with archivists during the permission-seeking process for digitisation are happy to be included, and generally do not seek licence fees for these types of non-commercial projects. The research has also shown that Extended Collective Licensing (ECL) may not be an effective solution for mass digitisation of in-copyright works, as Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) cannot demonstrate appropriate levels of representation among rights holders.

What impact has your work had so far/what impact do you anticipate it will have?
Through CREATe, I have worked closely with sector bodies including the Scottish Council on Archives (SCA), the Archives and Records Association of the United Kingdom and Ireland (ARA), the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA), and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). Given the impact of the Copyright and Risk project, I anticipate that the dissemination of the PhD results through sector bodies and continuing partnerships will encourage archive services to take more risks and make larger collections available online.

Challenges encountered/Lessons learned
Narrowing the topic initially proved difficult. The uptake of questionnaires was problematic: they had to be completed by a senior member of staff, which was difficult given the time and funding constraints at many archives services, especially in local government.

Are there additional/new research questions still to be answered in this area?
There is scope for more research on the demographic make-up of the archives profession and the effect this may have on attitudes to risk, including personality testing and experimental methodologies to evaluate decision-making. The scope of the research could also be widened to take into account born-digital materials, community heritage, and local government could be specifically targeted to guarantee better response rates.

How has your association with CREATe helped to take things forward?
I was able to gain insights into using different types of methodologies, and work collaboratively on related projects including the Edwin Morgan Scrapbooks, Valuing the Public Domain, the Copyright Evidence Wiki and the Copyright Cortex. Through CREATe I was able to offer taught modules on copyright to both University of Glasgow, and University of Dundee, building up module design and teaching experience in addition to research training.

Find out more in the research publications linked to the PhD study, and in the Copyright and Cultural Memory resource.

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