UKOLN AHDS Intellectual Rights Clearance On The Internet


The Internet contains an assortment of copyrighted work owned by millions of people or organisations throughout the world. It can be a legal minefield for anyone attempting to establish intellectual rights to specific works. In most cases it is extremely difficult to establish the author or owner to gain permission for its use.

One way of addressing IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) issues is to describe ownership in as much depth as possible: establishing who is responsible for specific works can help a producer protect themselves from potential legal difficulties.

This document provides guidelines on gaining copyright clearance for using third party works within your own project. It encourages the use of standard practices that will simplify the process and improve the quality of copyright clearance information stored, providing a protection against future legal action.

Copyright Clearance

Copyright is an automatically assigned right. It is therefore likely that the majority of works in a digital collection will be covered by copyright, unless explicitly stated. The copyright clearance process includes requiring the digitiser to check the copyright status of:

Copyright clearance should be undertaken at the beginning of a project. If clearance is denied after the work has been included in the collection, it will require additional effort to remove it and may result in legal action from the author. Therefore:

Maintain a negotiation log
A log will document all meetings, outlining subjects of discussion, objections and agreements by either party. This will enable the organization to refer to the relevant section to establish they have gained copyright clearance and refer to a detailed description of the meetings that took place.
Identify who the author is and when it was produced
Current copyright law in the UK indicates the author's lifespan plus 70 years as the limit for copyright. Therefore it is possible that a collection may consist of works that are outside current copyright laws (such as the entire works of Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, etc.). If the author is still alive, they must be contacted to gain permission to use their work.
Establish long-term access rights
Internet content may appear in a site archive for several years after it was published. When reaching agreement with the author, establish any time limits for the use of their work, indicating the length of time that work can be used. If the goal of the project is to enable long-term preservation of work, persuade the individual/s to allow the repository to host work indefinitely and to allow the conversion of it to modern formats when required.

In the event that an author, or authors, is unobtainable, the project is required to demonstrate they have taken steps to contact them. Digital preservation projects are particularly difficult in this aspect, separating the researcher and the copyright owner by many years. In many cases, more recently the 1986 Domesday project, it has proven difficult to trace authorship of 1000+ pieces of work to individuals. In this project, the designers created a method of establishing permission and registering objections by providing contact details that an author could use to identify their work.

Indicating IPR through Metadata

If permission has been granted to reproduce copyright work, the institution should take measures to reflect intellectual property. Metadata is commonly used for this purpose, storing and distributing IP data for online content. Several metadata bodies provide standardized schemas for copyright information. For example, IP information for a book could be stored in the following format:

<book id="bk112">
<author>Galos, Mike</author>
<title>Visual Studio 7: A Comprehensive Guide</title>
      <publisher>Addison Press</publisher>
      <copyright>Galos, M. 2001</copyright>

Access inhibitors can also be set to identify copyright limitations and the methods necessary to overcome them. For example, limiting e-book use to IP addresses within a university environment.

Further Information