Seeking New Landscapes – a rights clearance study in the context of mass digitisation

Barbara Stratton: Seeking New Landscapes – a rights clearance study in the context of mass digitisation of 140 books published between 1870 and 2010, The British Library Board 2011.


The study confirmed through analysis of a representative set of titles published within the 140 years between 1870 and 2010, that rights clearance of works on an individual,  item by item basis is unworkable in the context of mass digitisation. Mass digitisation potentially involves the copying and making available of millions of copyright works. At 4 hours per book it would take one researcher over 1,000 years to clear the rights in just 500,000 books – a drop in the ocean when compared to the rich collections of Europe’s cultural institutions.

Issues of rights clearance are therefore fundamentally important to the creation of publicly accessible collections of content. The current economic climate, in which funding for cultural and knowledge based services is highly limited, makes it even more important to find efficient ways of making public collections available. The material in these collections has, in a great many cases, been put on shelves and essentially forgotten about. To make it widely available in digital form is to increase understanding of our history, our traditions and the world within which we live. To limit this just to items that are clearly in the public domain through the lack of efficient rights clearance mechanisms would mean omitting the 20th century from this understanding. This would be a tragedy.

However, the results from the comparison with the ARROW system were very encouraging. The potential that a single automated diligent search is all that is needed to clear rights – a search for which a user need invest only minimal time in uploading records and reviewing responses – makes mass clearance of rights an achievable goal. ARROW also has the potential to play a significant role in any legislative solution to orphan works, acting as a single registry through which cultural institutions could identify works they have digitised and rightsholders could claim any works to which they own the rights. In summary the study showed that more efficient ways of clearing rights and providing cultural institutions with legal certainty over their activities are needed to ensure that highly valuable research materials don’t remain out of reach of the vast majority of citizens.


BBC-Artikel dazu:

Copyright confusion dogs European digitisation push

The cultural life of Europe will suffer unless more effort is made to clarify what libraries can do with so-called orphan works, says a study. …


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