Home » Copyright » OA to archival material vs. contractual restrictions 28 January 2009

OA to archival material vs. contractual restrictions 28 January 2009


Peter Hirtle, Recent News on Open Access to Archives, LibraryLaw Blog, January 26, 2009. (Thanks to Garrett Eastman.)

A continuing source of controversy is the desire of some archives, libraries, and museums to control through contract the downstream use of reproductions and digital files of public domain items. A number of recent news items make me wonder if there is much of a future for this common practice:

First, a working group of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science organized to address issues relating the to the use of images in scholarly research released early in January its final recommendations. While the report, “Scholarly Publishing and the Issues of Cultural Heritage: Fair Use, Reproduction Fees, and Copyrights,” is concerned primarily with visual images, its conclusions would apply to all public domain archival material. Everyone should read it.

Among the many interesting recommendations for cultural institutions and scholars, perhaps the most important is the recognition that in order “to promote creative scholarship in the humanities and to foster a deeper understanding of cultural heritage, …open access to visual sources not covered by copyright” is needed. That means that institutions should not use their ability to control access to limit non-commercial, scholarly use of public domain material.

The report also recommends that if scholars sign agreements to secure access to a public domain repository, they “must abide by the terms of use stipulated in the contract.” Three relatively recent examples of users apparently ignoring the restrictions repositories attempt to place on the use of their holdings make me wonder whether there is any future for such restrictions: [Note: omitting examples.]

Given the that repository-based use restrictions are being ignored by scholars and at least two commercial products, one has to wonder what is the point of imposing them at all. Wouldn’t scholarship be better-served if repositories sold reproductions for whatever the market would bear but allowed public domain material to be freely available via open access solutions?

See also our past post on the Max Planck Institute recommendations.


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