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Developing an agenda for reform

Copyright and Risk

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

Victoria Stobo was the principal speaker on the second panel, presenting results from her six-month study of the Codebreakers project: Copyright & Risk: Scoping the Wellcome Digital Library (2013). The study, which is available on the resources page of this website, examines the merits of, and problems encountered by, taking a risk-managed approach to rights clearance, and draws upon data collected at the Wellcome Library, as well as interviews with key Codebreakers project staff at the Wellcome and other partner archives.

Stobo’s presentation addressed three areas that feature prominently in the study. First, the results of the rights clearance process – that is, the number of permissions received, refusals received, non-responses and orphan works identified – were considered in relation to other cognate projects and studies. Second, the policies and processes developed by the Wellcome to manage the digitisation and clearance process, including their risk criteria and takedown policies, were explained and discussed. Third, an analysis of the outcomes and the lessons to be learned from Codebreakers was presented.

“The Wellcome strategy could be relevant if you do not have the staff, time or resources to engage in comprehensive clearance and if you’re willing to take on a certain amount of risk.” STOBO

“Each of the staff members I interviewed agreed that identifying sensitive data in the collections was of greater importance than identifying and contacting rights holders.” STOBO


A transcript of this presentation is available here.

In relation to the latter, two issues were singled out for specific comment, relating to communication and reputation respectively. Regarding communication, the manner in which the Wellcome Library engaged with rightsholders (explaining both the non-commercial nature of the Codebreakers project as well as their robust policies for managing sensitive data and dealing with takedown requests) was considered integral to the success of the project.

As for reputation, during the interviews with staff it became clear that the main risk factor for those involved in Codebreakers concerned reputational damage and not the financial risks associated with potential copyright litigation (a scenario regarded by interviewees as highly unlikely). In many respects, it is not surprising that reputational damage was the preeminent concern for the institutions involved; for all archives, maintaining a reputation as a trusted, reliable repository is imperative in managing relationships with depositors old and new. And while this concern over reputational damage was linked to making copyright-protected material available online without express permission, it was even more strongly associated with the potential consequences of disclosing sensitive personal data in contravention of data protection legislation.

Overall, the Copyright and Risk study aimed to systematise the often ‘anecdotal’ nature of the evidence associated with rights clearance in archival digitisation projects, evidence that CREATe will continue to collect and feedback to policymakers in this area.

For a full transcript of this panel, and to leave feedback on the discussion within the panel, click here.

Source: https://www.create.ac.uk/archivesandcopyright/copyright-and-risk/