The world in which archive services operate has changed radically in recent years. The predominance of digital records, the growing technical complexity of digital record-keeping, and the fragility of digital information all present archives with robust challenges in preserving authentic information and records in perpetuity. The digital environment has also had a major impact on society’s expectations about access to and use of information in general and archival holdings in particular: people now expect resources to be accessible online as and when it suits them.

The UK copyright regime is failing archives as memory institutions. It is failing and frustrating the work of archivists who dedicate their professional lives to preserving and making this country's extensive and very rich archival collections as accessible and as useful as possible

A transcript of an extended version of this presentation is available here.

Archivists are all too aware of the importance of enabling digital access to their collections. Preservation without access is redundant, and for most users access in the 21st century means digital access. However, making archive material available online inevitably triggers concerns, on the part of the conscientious archivist, about copyright law. Copyright enables and facilitates the work of archivists, but it also inhibits and frustrates that work, and not just because the law can be complicated, confusing and intimidating. Rather, originally devised for an analogue world, the law as it affects the works of archives is no longer fit for purpose. Put simply, at present, the copyright regime is failing archives as memory institutions.

Governments do recognise that there is a problem, and they are taking action. Within the UK, the government has been consulting on reform of the existing copyright exceptions as they relate to libraries and archives since 2006, and new legislation is expected in April 2014. These forthcoming reforms are discussed in the third panel of the Symposium, and while they are to be welcomed, we believe there is a need for more work in this area.

With that in mind, the premise underpinning the Symposium was very straightforward: what can be done to make the work of archivists easier and simpler, more efficient and more effective? Within the copyright domain, what evidence can be gathered and what strategies can be developed that might help make it easier for archivists to preserve their collections appropriately, and to make those collections as accessible and as useful as possible? What can be done to gather information specifically relevant to the archive sector that will help policy makers and legislators better understand the realities of the copyright regime as it affects and impacts archives? And how might a risk-based approach to copyright compliance enable archivists to deliver on their mission to preserve archive collections, to enable access, to educate, and to encourage new scholarship.

We hope this resource provides an orientation point in helping the archive community begin to answer these questions.

You can comment on an edited version of Ronan's introduction here.