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Enriching our Online Collections - Managing image rights for digital surrogates

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Enriching our Online Collections - Managing image rights for digital surrogates

by Sarah Powell
Sat, 22 Oct 2016

As pressure grows for cultural institutions to provide open access to digital content of collection objects, traditional models of image reproductions are being re-evaluated and adapted. Provoked by the revolution in how we use and access digital media, organisations such as OpenGLAM and Creative Commons are leading the sector through this cultural shift, by providing education, guidance and new types of image licence agreements.

Auckland Museum has recently developed a Copyright Framework that incorporates the OpenGLAM philosophy and utilises Creative Commons licensing to open up digital content where possible for reuse. The framework sets out key principles and guidelines, summarises the use of Creative Commons licences, and specifies how to deal with specialist areas within our collection, such as the use of images of Māori and Pacific works. Part of my role as the Rights Specialist is to implement the framework for digital surrogates of collection objects. This involves assessing the copyright status of objects, contacting copyright owners with a copyright licensing agreement and then publishing approved images to Collections Online. Other parts of my role include providing copyright advice, training and support across the Museum.

No copyright exists for these Tui feathers.

No copyright exists for these Tui feathers.

Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae, Collection of Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira, LB1360, © Auckland Museum CC BY.

Open by default

Part of our Future Museum strategy is that our collections are open by default, this means that for images in which there is no copyright in the object, or where the Museum is the sole copyright owner, or where images of 3D works in which copyright has expired but the Museum claims copyright in the image, these images are assigned a CC BY 4.0 licence. This licence is the least restrictive of the Creative Commons licences and allows users to reuse our digital content for any use, even commercially, as long as they attribute us as the owner of the digital surrogate.

Another avenue in opening up our content is that when contacting a copyright holder we offer the option for them to license images of their work with their chosen Creative Commons licence. Of the copyright holders who have replied to date, most have selected an open licence excluding commercial use — the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial licence (CC BY NC). I feel that there is a balancing act between protecting a creator’s work and making it accessible for a wider audience. Creative Commons licences give creators and copyright holders the option to open up their work while retaining some of their rights.

Elena Gee, the creator of the necklace, has granted a Creative Commons licence to display the image online.

Elena Gee, the creator of the necklace, has granted a Creative Commons licence to display the image online.

Necklace, Elena Gee, Collection of Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira, 2015.76.2, © Auckland Museum CC BY NC.

Orphan works

As part of the Copyright Framework, we can now release objects that are deemed orphan works. These are cases in which, after a reasonable and documented effort, we cannot trace the maker but the object is still believed to be in copyright. By keeping a clear record of due diligence during the search for the creator or copyright holder, we can then release these works as orphan works. People can view them, but we don’t allow reuse.

These works are accompanied by a takedown notice on our website, so if a copyright holder comes forward we have a policy on how to correctly assert them as the creator or copyright holder. This allows the Museum to release works that would otherwise be restricted by copyright law, and also allows copyright holders to identify works and get in touch with us.

Cultural permissions for images of taonga

Beyond the Applied Arts and Design collection, the next largest area affected is our Human History collection, encompassing everyday utility items where copyright has expired. In many cases, the issue is not copyright, but cultural sensitivity. For a Māori or Pacific object, we assign a special licence when we know that it is of significance and seen as taonga (treasure). Called a cultural permissions statement, it helps people understand that we are letting them view such objects but they cannot reuse the images, even if they are out of copyright.

This Pareu is an example of a Pacific object displayed online with a cultural permissions statement.

This Pareu is an example of a Pacific object displayed online with a cultural permissions statement.

Pareu, Cook Islands waist garment, Collection of Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira, 1994.52.5, 54722. For cultural reasons, copying or reproducing this item requires specific permission. Please contact us for more information.

One of the main reasons for this is to protect objects that are considered taonga to Māori or Pacific communities. This includes images depicting Māori and Pacific people, as these are seen to have a spiritual presence, especially when they depict someone who is deceased. The other side of the argument, however, is that when those images are not online, those communities can become under-represented, and people who live outside the Auckland region have no direct access to the physical collections. By working closely with the curators and collection managers, we consult with the source community to make sure we grant the right access. When there are specific objects that can’t be shown for cultural reasons — for example, human remains, or objects that were buried with human remains — then those objects are tapu (sacred, protected) and will not be shown online.

Our cultural permissions process is managed through the Museum’s Guidelines and procedures for use of Māori images document, which is based on four cultural principles: manaakitanga (hospitality), mana taonga (the relationship between treasures and their descendant source communities), mana whenua (customary authority of and over ancestral land) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship). We are also in the process of finalising a guideline for the use of Pacific images.

Reusing images in new ways

Since applying Creative Commons licences to our collections images, we are already seeing some new and interesting ways in which people are using them. For example, some of our entomology images have been used on sites such as Wikipedia to enrich entomological records. Since we, and other institutions, have adopted OpenGLAM practices have also found users creating new works with openly licensed images, including colourisation of WWI materialGIF-making and popular regional Facebook pages sharing images online.

The potential application is broad and exciting. From research, to school assignments, to artist inspiration, to remixing, to profitable businesses, we are creating a virtual extension of the gallery — only much, much bigger. More importantly, these openly licensed images are adding to the pool of images readily available in the Commons with clear and consistent rights statements, allowing users to confidently reuse them in new and inspiring ways.

This pocket watch is an example of an out of copyright 3D object.

This pocket watch is an example of an out of copyright 3D object.

Pocket watch, Collection of Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira, 2004.44.73, © Auckland Museum CC BY.

Get in touch

If you’ve got any questions, you can find me on Twitter.

Get our Copyright Licensing Guide

Sarah has written this Copyright Licensing Guide to help our Collection Managers and digital content creators understand copyright. This useful resource is packed with great advice and templates which you can adapt for your use at your museum.

Further reading

  • Post by: Sarah Powell

    Sarah Powell is the Rights Specialist at Auckland War Memorial Museum where the philosophy towards access and reuse of collections is “open by default.” Her role consists of managing rights and permissions for digital images of collection objects as part of the Collection Imaging project and where possible, opening up content through Creative Commons licensing.