Research Blog Series: Copyright and Risk

Victoria Stobo reviews her work on copyright and risk relating to a mass digitisation project at the Wellcome Library, for the Research Blog Series.

Project: Copyright and Risk: Scoping the Wellcome Digital Library

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

What did your research aim to do?
Analyse the Wellcome Library approach to rights clearance for their pilot mass digitisation project, Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics.

How did you do it?
A literature review explored similar examples of rights clearance studies, followed by a case study methodology, utilising semi-structured interviews at the Wellcome Library and various partner institutions to understand how the project developed, and the decision-making process at each institution.

What are your key findings?
By utilising a risk-based approach to rights clearance, the Wellcome Library was able to make a significantly larger proportion of their collections available online, than if they had adopted a legally-compliant method of permission-seeking. They have also demonstrated a scalable approach to rights clearance that other archive institutions could adapt for their own projects.

What impact has your work had so far/what impact do you anticipate it will have?
We know of at least four cultural heritage institutions that have applied the lessons learned from the Copyright and Risk project to their own digitisation projects, adopting a risk-based approach to rights clearance for digitisation.

Project investigators were invited to work as Copyright Policy Advisors to the Scottish Council on Archives. This has led to eight free training sessions for archivists in Scotland. To date, our training sessions have been attended by over 150 practitioners from over 40 organisations, from universities, charities, community groups and both the private and public sectors.

The researchers have represented the SCA on the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) and at the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, where a delegation of librarians and archivists, led by the International Federation of Library Associations and the International Council on Archives, are currently lobbying for an international treaty on limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives. This collaborative work continues in the linked Archives, Digitisation and Copyright PhD study.

Challenges encountered/Lessons learned

  • Accessing accurate data on the rights clearance process at cultural heritage institutions.
  • The challenge of sensitivity review on analogue collections before, during and after digitisation.
  • Finding clear and appropriate methods for recording information about the decision-making process that occurs when archivists make collections available online.

Are there additional/new research questions still to be answered in this area?
Sensitivity review for personal and sensitive data within unpublished archive collections is a significant challenge, and further research is needed to generate possible technical solutions.

What have been the career advantages of doing your PhD at CREATe?
I have learned how to conduct research to a high academic standard in a supportive and interdisciplinary environment, with senior researchers to learn from. I have been able to take advantage of high-quality training and development activities, and apply them to my research.

For more information see the Copyright and Risk project report,  the conference proceedings are available as a rich digital resource and a working paper including full transcripts of the conference is available. 

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