Will UK unpublished works finally make their public domain debut?

This post was originally published on the CREATe website on 2nd June 2014.

Public Domain Image: Mechanical Curator http://bit.ly/1hQJmcU

Public Domain Image: Mechanical Curator http://bit.ly/1hQJmcU

As those working in the archive sector will know all too well, UK copyright in many unpublished works does not expire until 31 December 2039, with the absurd result that old material going back to the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries is still protected by copyright. This substantially reduces the online availability and international circulation of authentic, historical records documenting the events which have shaped the UK and its relationship with the world. Recent public comments by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), however, suggest that the long wait for a reduction in this term of protection may well be over.

The comments were made in April 2014 by Antoinette Graves, Head of Orphan Works, Broadcasting and Film Policies at the Intellectual Property Office atDigitisation, Public Domain and Informational Monopolies, a conference organised by the Centre of Intellectual Property Policy and Management (CIPPM) at Bournemouth University. When asked whether the term would be reduced through a graduated scheme or a single date after which the extension would not apply, she favoured the latter: “…that certainly was the intention behind the primary legislation, and there shouldn’t be anything too complex in the secondary legislation.”*

These comments follow on from those made at a copyright briefing organised by the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals in early April 2014, where Antoinette Graves  presented details of the new Orphan Works legislation, due to come into force in October 2014. She recognised the tension between the term expiry of 2039 and its effect on the practical usefulness of the Orphan Works exception and licensing scheme. This may suggest that the term reduction may coincide with the introduction of the Orphan Works legislation. Certainly, it would be logical if it did so.

The current term expiry of 31 December 2039 stems from changes introduced by the UK Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and applies to all works created, but not published before 1 August 1989, where the author died before 1 January 1969.  It has been hoped for some time that this term of protection would be reduced, particularly after a power to do so was included in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. The Libraries and Archive Copyright Alliance have been campaigning and lobbying on the issue for several years and CREATe have been highlighting the issue in its detailed working papers and at public events since early 2013. Interested readers are directed to the following CREATe publications where the issues are discussed in full: Archives and Copyright: Risk and Reform;Copyright and Risk: Scoping the Wellcome Digital Library ProjectArchives and Copyright: Developing an Agenda for Reform; and Research Perspectives on the Public Domain.

Given the large proportions of unpublished material held by archives within the UK deposited before 1989, the implications of a reduction in term are enormous: vast quantities of material will ascend to the public domain for the first time. The effect of such open and freely accessible public domain material on archivists, users and stakeholders has seismic potential within and without the archives sector, increasing the international availability and circulation of material online. All these groups should watch with interest.

*Quote taken from digital proceedings of Digitisation, Public Domain and Informational Monopolies, CIPPM, 10th April 2014, forthcoming.

Introducing Copyright for Archivists Workshops... and a short survey

The Dome at New Register House

The Dome at New Register House

I recently helped my PhD supervisor, Ronan Deazley, deliver copyright training workshops with the Scottish Council on Archives (SCA). “Introducing Copyright for Archivists” ran twice, first in Edinburgh, in The Dome at New Register House, National Records of Scotland on 30th May, and then at the AK Bell Library in Perth on 10th June. Workshop materials, including slides and a specially produced guidance note, are available on the SCA website. The day consisted of four sessions, covering: basic concepts; authorship and ownership; exceptions; and digitisation and risk.

The first session covered basic concepts of copyright, including the protection criteria of fixation, originality and qualification; the global nature of the copyright regime, and the eight categories of work protected, illustrated with examples. In the second session, we considered authorship and ownership from different perspectives; the definition of authorship according to each category of work; works of unknown authorship; joint authorship and joint ownership; and perhaps of most relevance to archive collections, works authored under contract or as a freelancer.

AK Bell Library in Perth

AK Bell Library in Perth

The third session examined the new exceptions which archives and libraries can rely on to make copies of works without infringing the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. Those specific to archivists include: s.40B (making works available through dedicated terminals); s.42 (replacement copies of works) and s.43 (single copies of unpublished works). The new regulations are available here. Crucially, each of these sessions also introduced the previous versions of UK copyright legislation (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Copyright Act 1956 and Copyright Act 1911), which are essential in understanding what would be protected, for how long, and who would be considered the author or owner of copyright in a work, at different points in history. Understanding this is essential to tracing copyright in older works, something which archivists are called upon to do regularly!

Adopting a risk-managed approach to copyright clearance for digitisation was the focus of the fourth and final session of the day. This session is based on my PhD research (so far) and includes examples of rights clearance exercises from archive services in the USA (University of Michigan and Carolina Digital Library and Archives) and the UK, highlighting the differences between institutions who favour strict compliance with the law, and those who take a risk-managed approach to their digitisation projects. The Codebreakers project at the Wellcome Library is an example of an institution demonstrating a large capacity for risk. If you're interested in reading about the Wellcome experience in greater depth, a scoping study of Codebreakers is available here.

The fourth session also included a series of group exercises, looking at real (but with some details deliberately changed) archive digitisation projects from a series of perspectives: how to conduct a diligent search; how to mitigate risk on publication; and how to identify risk factors within collections. There was a tremendous reaction to the group exercises with lots of useful discussion, interesting approaches devised and valuable ideas shared. Look out for future posts on the scenarios for more details.

Also included in the day was a short survey which asked the participants to either agree or disagree with a series of statements about copyright and digitisation. The purpose of the survey is to help us develop base level knowledge of how archivists feel about copyright law, how it affects our work, and how confident we feel in our knowledge and understanding of the law.

The participants were also kind enough to take part in an evaluation survey of the workshop, which included the option to ask more questions about copyright, and to nominate topics for future workshops. Copyright is a huge topic to cover in one day, so we appreciate the pointers on what to cover next, and the extra questions on copyright will help to create a “Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright” resource for the archive sector (more on this here). I'll be discussing some of the outcomes of this survey, and the short copyright survey, in my next blog posts.

A new feature on the Archives and Copyright site...

This blog is a new section on the Archives and Copyright: Developing an Agenda for Reform website. During the course of my PhD (Archives, Digitisation and Copyright, 2013-2016), I’ll be producing a lot of material which is relevant to practitioners working within the UK archives sector. Rather than have all that research and analysis bound up inside a thesis, I’d like to use this blog to make as much of that content available as possible. In terms of the research, I’m interested in how copyright law shapes digitisation projects within the UK archive sector, how we can create policies and guidelines which will make it easier to make archive material available online, and how perceptions of (and appetite for) risk may influence this process.

The blog will include a variety of content: first (and perhaps most importantly), I’ll be carrying out empirical research over the next two years, some of which I’ll be able to make available through blog posts. As part of my PhD research, I’ll conduct a large scale questionnaire survey of the UK archive sector in September 2014, and I’ll also complete a series of digitisation case studies with a variety of institutions and collections, details of which can be disseminated through the blog.

I’m also planning on doing some content analysis of various sector resources, including a sample of archive service websites and twitter feeds, and the ARCHIVES-NRA JISCmail listserve: results of which can be made available through the blog, and datasets through the Documents section of the website. In particular, I would like to develop a “Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright” resource aimed specifically at the archives sector, using the JISCmail archive, which goes back to 1998. This would be further supplemented with questions asked at copyright training workshops: I help my supervisor, Professor Ronan Deazley, deliver these with the Scottish Council on Archives. So, in addition to posting answers to questions, I’ll also be making course materials and the results of group exercises from the workshops available.

Given that the current copyright regime within the UK (and elsewhere) is in flux, I’ll comment on copyright legislation and reform through the blog, with emphasis on my current bête noirs: orphans works reform and duration of copyright, especially the 2039 date for certain types of unpublished works. I’m also lucky enough to attend plenty of conferences, both as a delegate and occasionally as a speaker, so the blog will also include recaps of events, including links to relevant speakers, presentations and projects.

As a representative on the ARA Committee for the Nations and Regions, I’ll also be able to round-up lots of projects and initiatives taking place across the UK. Besides my current research, I’m also interested in how archives are used by different user groups, especially artists: as source material, as sites, as inspiration. I’d like the blog to reflect the fact that I have interests in archives outside the scope of copyright law, but I can’t guarantee it won’t beguile its way back in! And unfortunately, some blog posts on research methods will be inevitable: I am a PhD student after all…

I hope you find the blog useful and informative; if there are any topics you’d like me to cover in a post, or if you have a questions or comments, please do get in touch: victoria.stobo@glasgow.ac.uk.

Photos, Press and Social Media reactions from Archives and Copyright

Here are some resources from the original event page on the CREATe website; I thought I'd repost them here on the main Archives and Copyright site. Look out for #archivescopyright on Twitter!

Event Images

Event Outreach [Press and Social Media Reactions]


Collage of the Day (click to open larger image)

Archives & Copyright Collage

Download printable copy of speaker bios.

Welcome to Archives and Copyright: Developing an Agenda for Reform

This resource has been produced as an orientation point in critically assessing how copyright shapes the work of archives as it relates to preservation and access. It recognises that the copyright regime enables and facilitates the work of archivists, but that it can also inhibit and frustrate that work. As such, it considers what role a risk-based approach to copyright compliance might play in making it easier for archivists to preserve their collections appropriately, and in making those collections as accessible and as useful as possible.

The resource contains transcripts and short videos of the discussions at ‘Archives and Copyright’, an RCUK-funded Symposium hosted by the Wellcome Trust on 27 September 2013.

The symposium was generously funded by the Wellcome Trust; and the production of this resource by the Archives and Records Association UK & Ireland, and the British & Irish Law Education and Technology Association.

This is a beta version, and we will continue to add further materials to the site.

Comments are welcome to: contact@create.ac.uk

The Symposium ‘Archives and Copyright: Developing an Agenda for Reform’ was held at the Wellcome Trust on 27 September 2013. It was organised by Ronan Deazley and Victoria Stobo in collaboration with the Wellcome Library, and represents the culmination of an RCUK-funded research project concerned with the manner in which the copyright regime shapes the work of heritage institutions, and in particular archives.

The Symposium was organised around four related panels, followed by an open discussion with the audience.

In addition to transcripts and short videos of the discussions at the Symposium, this resource contains an introductory essay, a bibliography, a downloadable publication of the full Symposium proceedings, as well as additional related material.