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Digitisation, Orphan Works & Copyright: New Resource for the GLAM sector

Posted on    by CREATe Team

Digitisation, Orphan Works & Copyright: New Resource for the GLAM sector

By 25 April 2017March 16th, 2021No Comments

How do archives, museums and libraries enable digital access to works in their collections when it is difficult to identify or locate the copyright owners? The problem of orphan works has been addressed in part by the EU Orphan Works Directive 2012 and the UK Orphan Works Licensing Scheme (OWLS). But are these solutions fit for purpose?

The Digitising the Edwin Morgan Scrapbooks project was the first UK study addressing the legal and practical realities of diligent search since the Directive and OWLS came into effect. Now the project has concluded, with a new resource launched at

In the web resource we report findings from a rights clearance simulation on a culturally significant set of unpublished scrapbooks created by Edwin Morgan, the first Scots Makar. The scrapbooks are full of orphan material, such as cuttings from newspapers, magazines and books. We conclude that mass digitisation and diligent search are fundamentally incompatible, however light-touch the diligent search obligation might be. In addition, we interrogate the legal and practical requirements of diligent search under both the Directive and OWLS, and explore the necessary role that a risk-managed approach to copyright compliance will continue to play in this domain, regardless of the introduction of the orphan works regime.

Pages 2253-4 from an interactive sample of Scrapbook 12

Portion of pages 2253-4 viewable with a low appetite for risk

The resource includes an interactive version of a sample from one of Morgan’s Scrapbooks, which will be of interest to Morgan scholars as well as those researching copyright. Users can select individual cuttings to learn more about each item and the pages can be viewed through an innovative ‘risk filter.’  This feature clearly demonstrates how much more of the scrapbooks can be viewed when a robust attitude to risk is adopted.

The three main research sections of the web resource cover law, diligence and risk and are available as downloadable PDFs on each page, as is the project conclusion. These sections will also be included as part of a CREATe Working Paper, to be released later in the year.

Of particular interest to those working in the cultural heritage sector, we include a set of downloadable documents providing clear, authoritative and practical guidance on a range of issues relevant for institutions engaging in similar digitisation initiatives. This can be found in the Resources section of the site, along with links to download the research data and the ‘Annotator’ software used to create the interactive scrapbook sample.

Downloadable copyright advice

The Guidance Notes explore copyright issues commonly encountered in digitisation projects. Written by specialists in copyright and archives, they are designed for users in the UK . The Notes are accessible for those without a law background, but contain legal references to give them enough weight to be of use at all levels of decision making. Each document provides a legislative context and outlines practical implications, including examples from the project. In combination with the research available on site, and particularly the project’s concluding thoughts, the Digitising Morgan web resource provides a range of material to help  institutions make decisions about how to use cultural heritage material in their collections.

Other posts about the project can be found here: