Matters of copyright: a report on the recent Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) meeting

I attended the latest LACA meeting on 24 February 2016, as a representative of ARLIS/UK & Ireland.

I’m reporting here on one issue that arose: copyright in photos and scans of out-of-copyright works.  The Intellectual Property Office released guidance a couple of months ago that suggests there is no new copyright in a copy of a work.  This could mean that there is no copyright in photos and copies of out-of-copyright two-dimensional works.

If you enter into a contract with a supplier of images and that contract specifies how you can use the images, then you still have to abide by the terms of the contract.  So, for example, some museum websites ask you to register or confirm usage before allowing you access to to higher quality images.  In these cases, you would still have to abide by the terms you’ve agreed to.  If you are using images from image libraries that you or your institution have subscribed to, you would need to abide by the terms of the subscription and licence.

But if your access to an image is not controlled by contract  (for example if you found it on the internet, in a book, if it’s a standard photo or a copy of an out-of-copyright two-dimensional work), this guidance suggests that you can do what you like with it, even if the website or book sets out restrictions on re-use.

What counts as out-of-copyright?  Well, a rule of thumb is seventy years after the death of the artist.  It can be less in some circumstances.  It will be longer for some unpublished works, but if you sourced the image from a publication or the internet, then someone else has published it first!  See Tim Padfield’s Copyright for archivists and records managers for full details on copyright duration (latest edition, 2015, published by Facet).

As you may have noticed, I’m not completely confident about all this.  There have long been arguments that the skill required to take photographs of some two-dimensional artistic works generates a new copyright in those photographs.  On the other hand, some photos or copies of two-dimensional works are just copies, and the guidance is clear that if something is just a copy, it does not have copyright. However, you may find this guidance useful in freeing up what you can do with at least some images.

Katie Hambrook, Oxford Brookes University