Copyright is one of the key issues affecting any organisation with a collection. People responsible for museums, libraries and archives worry about who owns what, are sometimes perplexed by publishing rights and occasionally even fret about photocopying.
But they should look at copyright as a positive, empowering tool, says Peter Wienand, head of intellectual property at law firm Farrer & Co.
“Copyright is, essentially, a means for collections-holding organisations both to raise revenue and to achieve their educational mission,” he says. “Staff shouldn’t lose sleep about it but consider it constructively while always being aware that carelessness can create avoidable risks.”
Museums should always seek the necessary rights to use copyrighted material; this applies right across the board as there are few defences to copyright infringement. Libraries are covered in the UK by a separate piece of legislation called 'fair dealing' which permits use of material in certain contexts (see below).
They should also be very careful when allowing third parties through the doors as part of a collaborative venture. Those parties could acquire the reproduction rights of objects in collections and cash in, for example, by producing high quality photographs, thereby undermining the organisation's ability to make money from them.
The owner of an artefact may be a completely different person or body from the owner of its copyright. The person who hands over a collection of letters is likely to be a descendant of the recipient and, therefore, has no claim to any copyright which resides with the person who wrote them and his/her descendants.
Care also needs to be taken with information pertaining to objects. Data protection issues may arise from the use of details that identify copyright owners and there may be FOI (freedom of information) or other implications regarding what information an organisation chooses to disclose in the context of a commercial negotiation.
“It’s not just documents and art works that are covered,” adds Peter Wienand. “Photographs, sound recordings, films and maps are similarly protected.”
Author: Holt, J. 2006