Over the last decade the conversation surrounding the reuse of digital collections from cultural heritage institutions has grown louder. The rise of digital technologies has created a friction between the traditional role of the museum, gallery, library or archive as gatekeepers and the expectations placed on them by users for immediate and openly available content. Furthermore, research suggests that the recent hype of Open GLAM and the application of Creative Commons licences to digital cultural material has seen many memory institutions rethinking their practices surrounding image reproductions and shifting away from traditional revenue models towards providing more open and freely accessible material.

For many cultural heritage institutions the practical aspect of applying Creative Commons licences to digital surrogates can be complicated. Most cultural heritage institutions do not own copyright of the works held in their collections and knowing how to gain permission from copyright owners to openly license digitised material can be challenging. At present, the majority of Creative Commons licensed images available from New Zealand cultural institutions are reproductions of out-of-copyright objects that have been photographed by the institution itself, such as Te Papa’s recently released CC images. So how can cultural heritage institutions confidently apply Creative Commons licences to digital content that is in copyright?

CC licensing is already commonplace within scholarly publications where many separate articles make up one journal. Prior to publication each author signs a contract and gives their permission for a Creative Commons licence to be applied to their work.  Applying this method to digital collections cultural heritage institutions can offer a Creative Commons licence option through copyright licence agreements, donor agreements and other licensing instances. Starting the conversation about openly licensed works early in the donation process with donors can be a simple way of explaining the purpose of Creative Commons licensing and save valuable time and resources. Upper Hutt City Library’s RECOLLECT is a great example of licensing content from multiple authors with a Creative Commons licence.

However, complex situations arise when the collecting institution is not the rights holder and the work is an orphan work or where the work is classed as an indigenous work. Both of these situations require further investigation and current practice within the cultural heritage sector is to only apply Creative Commons licences to works with clear copyright owners. Applying Creative Commons licences to works where the author is unknown or to an indigenous work is considered inappropriate and potentially illegal.  At present, focusing on opening up content that has a clear copyright owner, or is deemed to be in the public domain, is the best option for cultural heritage institutions looking to provide openly reusable content for the public.

Turnbull Library Record Digitisation Project

As part of a placement towards a Masters of Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University, I have been working on a rights management plan for a special project at the Alexander Turnbull Library. They are planning to digitise and publish online all issues of the Turnbull Library Record from 1940 onwards and make them available for reuse with a Creative Commons licence. The Turnbull Library Record was created by the Friends of the Turnbull Library in 1940 and is an incredibly rich source that brings to life manuscripts, archives, photographs and artworks within the Alexander Turnbull Library collection. This exciting project forms part of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s 100 year anniversary celebrations due to be held in 2020. The decision to release the digital surrogates of the Turnbull Library Record with a CC-BY licence has been made in accordance with the New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing framework (NZGOAL).

Turnbull Library Record cover

Turnbull Library Record Cover Image, 2013: Staged running race in studio, taken for Dormer-Beck Advertising LTD 1973. Photographer: K E Niven and Co, fl 1940s-1970s (ATL ref. F-241030-1/2)

My role consists of researching and collating information on authors who have contributed articles to the Turnbull Library Record right from the first issue in 1940. Each author who has contributed an article to the TLR will be contacted for copyright purposes and sent a copyright licence agreement that offers the suggested Creative Commons licence option. While authors retain the right to choose a traditional copyright licence, we are encouraging authors to consider the option of licensing their work under a CC licence. By openly licensing each article within each issue of the Turnbull Library Record, this will allow new audiences to discover an internationally recognised and acclaimed publication in its entirety and help set a precedent for future projects.

The Alexander Turnbull Library will be contacting contributors to the Turnbull Library Record shortly for copyright purposes and would appreciate any authors who have contributed works to the Turnbull Library Record to contact Fiona Oliver, Curator New Zealand and Pacific Publications at  with their current details.

Sarah Powell is a Masters of Museum and Heritage Studies Student at Victoria University of Wellington and is actively helping GLAMs open up their digital collections.

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