Site icon OurDigitalWorld

“Can I Use This?”: Implementing Rights Statements in Online Cultural Heritage Collections

Hello! This is Adam Ianson. I’m a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s iSchool and practicum student with OurDigitalWorld during which I was involved in providing recommendations for the implementation of standardized Rights Statements as part of VITA Digital Toolkit for their partner GLAM organizations’ collections.

Rights Statements are similar to Creative Commons licenses with one important difference. They are similar in that their purpose is to communicate clearly to users what they are permitted to do with the images, articles, and other digital content they find online. They are also both international standards that support the aims of the free-culture movement by enhancing the discoverability of public domain and free-license content online and by facilitating the reuse of those materials to generate new creative works.

The important difference to note is that Creative Commons licenses are legally binding and can only be applied to content by the rightsholder (or rightsholders) of that content. Rights Statements are often better suited to the needs of cultural heritage repositories such as ODW’s partners, which in most cases do not hold the rights to the content they make available online. 

Currently, ODW partners are prompted to select one of five rights statuses to display with each item they make available on their VITA collection: public domain, copyrighted, licensed, contractual, or unknown. Each status has a corresponding statement that appears as the public description. These statements are at least consistent, but when it comes to answering the question “can I use this item?” they can only inform the user that either there are ‘no restrictions on use’ or that the user must ‘ask for permission’ with little nuance in between. Also, users are not able to search for items in the collection according to their copyright status. Rights Statements offer improvements in both of these areas.

West Branch Bridge, Moira River, Tweed, Ontario. http://images.ourontario.ca/tweed/103610/data

To implement Rights Statements in VITA requires bridging the current copyright statement options to their more expressive equivalent (or equivalents) in the Rights Statements system. To better understand this task I found guidance in the British Columbia Electronic Library Network’s Arca and Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ), two Canadian cultural heritage repositories that have implemented Rights Statements in their collections. I also consulted a draft of the research paper produced by the National Heritage Digitization Strategy (NHDS) on the use of Rights Statements in the Canadian context. 

Based on my research, I determined that two of the twelve Rights Statements have low utility for ODW’s purposes. First, the In Copyright – EU Orphan Work statement, because it references legislation that applies exclusively to member states of the European Union. The other, No Copyright – Other Legal Restrictions statement, has limitations as well. This is used to restrict free use of the item because it has designated cultural expression protections; as well, applying the statement is inconclusive without further links to legal restrictions as supplied by the steward organization. Instead, the recommendation is to employ a more granular, descriptive standard that is sensitive to the community-specific protocols surrounding the access and use of these items, such as the Traditional Knowledge (TK) Labels system developed by Local Contexts, or the proposed Open Licensing Scheme for Traditional Knowledge jointly developed by Carleton University and the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

Furthermore, I learned that the current suite of Rights Statements may not be specific enough to the Canadian legal context. For example, works published by the Government of Canada or any of the provincial offices of the Queen’s Printer are protected by Crown copyright. The use restrictions on these works are comparable to, but by no means fully encapsulated by, the existing In Copyright – Non-commercial Use Permitted statement. Therefore, it may be desirable to create a “tailor-made” In Copyright – Crown Work Rights Statement for use in the Canadian GLAM context. Or it may make sense to instead advocate, alongside the Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA) and Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), to retroactively assign a Creative Commons CC-BY license to publicly available Canadian government publications.

In the course of my practicum I’ve certainly come to recognize the sheer number of decisions that need to be made in the process of implementing Rights Statements in online cultural heritage collections. I also appreciate the importance of consulting extensively with partner organizations, users, and the GLAM community at large before rolling out changes to a collection numbering in the millions of items!

Interested in hearing more? I’ll be presenting next week at the the Creative Commons Summiton Tuesday, October 20, 2020.

Exit mobile version