Research Blog Series: Surrogate IP Rights in the Cultural Sector 

Continuing our Research Blog Series, Andrea Wallace reports on her work exploring the effects of copyright claims on artworks in the public domain.


The DAYOR exhibition. Image © Michael Gimenez, CC BY-NC.

Project: Surrogate IP Rights in the Cultural Sector  (Part of New Business Models for Cultural Institutions)

Investigator: Andrea Wallace (CREATe) with the National Library of Scotland

What did your research aim to do?
My research aimed to consider the impact that a claim to copyright in reproductions of artworks has on meaningful access to and reuse of our common cultural heritage in the public domain.

How did you do it?
I performed empirical and qualitative research on rights and reproductions policies of a number of cultural institutions around the world and produced in the Display At Your Own Risk project, a research-led exhibition experiment featuring digital surrogates of public domain works made available by heritage institutions of international repute.

What are your key findings?
The majority of heritage institutions claim copyright in reproductions of public domain works and there is an overwhelming lack of standardisation in how the industry communicates this information to the public, as well as a lack of transparency in how users might understand how they are permitted to engage with and reuse content made available online.

The researcher argues this practice results in “surrogate IP rights,” wherein new intellectual property rights are claimed in the copy, or rather the “surrogate” of a work.

What impact has your work had so far/what impact do you anticipate it will have?
Described as ‘audacious’ (Prof Lionel Bently, Cambridge), and an exhibition that ‘captures a moment in the transition to openness for digital heritage collections’ (Prof Simon Tanner, King’s College London), DAYOR explores access, transparency, and user engagement at a time when establishing meaningful connections between digital collections with user communities is becoming imperative.

Promoted by Creative Commons, WIPO and the Smithsonian Archives, the DAYOR website has been accessed by almost 6,000 unique users from 95 countries since its launch in April 2016. The Gallery exhibition traveled to London and New Orleans in 2016, and will be shown in Hamburg and Milan in 2017. DAYOR is also included in “No Copyright Infringement Intended”, a group exhibition curated by artist Antonio Roberts, which will tour Leicester and Birmingham in 2017. In addition, the British Library selected DAYOR’s website for permanent preservation in its Web Archive.

Many heritage institutions have since changed their policies in line with the recommendations made by the project. DAYOR was widely promoted by the sector and reported on by the critical online art magazine, Hyperallergic.

Finally, the researcher was selected as a finalist (top 10 out of 2600 entries) for the Rijksmuseum’s 2017 International Ri­jksstudio Award.

Challenges encountered/Lessons learned
Technological challenges often has much to do with the issues encountered by heritage institutions, which trickle down and result in uncertainties online for users.

Are there additional/new research questions still to be answered in this area?
It will be interesting to see how 3D reproduction proceeds in the face of representational and creative data that is produced during the scanning and data manipulation process.

What have been the career advantages of doing your PhD at CREATe? 
The opportunity to travel and present my research has been key to its dissemination and recognition by the sector. From this exposure, I have been invited to deliver keynotes during my PhD in places as far away as New Zealand.

To find out more see the DAYOR site, the Surrogate IP Rights blog, the Rijksmuseum’s website and the Copyright & Cultural Memory resource

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