Today one of our email researchers requested permission to publish five images she’d found on the Alaska’s Digital Archives website. She also requested high resolution copies of the images since the ones posted on the Digital Archives are only 72 ppi, which is usually too low for publication purposes.
This is one of our most frequently asked questions and it seems like we never answer it the same way twice. The high resolution scans are easy because when we digitize materials for the site we create a master scan at a minimum of 600 ppi. And we charge $20.00 each for copies of the digital file. So that’s basic math (# of images X $20.00 = amount to be paid) and then we deliver the files via our website.
So in the case of this request, the duplication cost will be $100.00 (5 x $20.00).
But the publication is where it sometimes gets complicated and there’s two pieces to it: permission and commercial use fees.
First, permission. Here’s why it’s complicated: not all of our collections are equal and owning the physical copy isn’t the same as owning the rights to the material. Sometimes when a donor gives us a collection s/he will sign over all rights to us or the materials may be in the public domain. This allows us to provide copies to users for whatever purpose, they just have to fill out a Statement of Intended Use (SIU) to let us know what the end product will be and that they agree to certain use policies. But if the donor doesn’t, or can’t, transfer rights to us, like for incoming correspondence or photographs s/he has received from someone else, we aren’t able to give the end user written permission to publish. Now that doesn’t mean that the material can’t be used, but in that case, the researcher and our reference archivist have to talk about the rights issues and the researcher will have to decide if the uncertain rights are a problem for their project. It’s the researcher’s/end user’s responsibility to clear rights for use. We try to provide any information we can that will help the researcher do that, but sometimes we just don’t know who the rightsholder(s) may be.
In the case of the images being requested today, two of them we own, rights and all. The donors were the photographers and signed over copyright to us. Another two were from a donor/photographer and though the rights aren’t clearly transferred to us, the donor has said that we can make them available for these purposes. The fifth was a photograph from a collection where the donor signed the rights to the collection over to us, but since he didn’t appear to be the creator of the image, the rights status of this specific item is unclear. So we had to ask for another document to be signed by the researcher basically saying that the researcher would take on any rights clearance work to be done.
Second is commercial use fees. If the publication or production is non-profit or educational in nature, we usually waive the commercial use fees. But if the end product is being used for a commercial or profit-making purpose, we probably will charge a commercial use fee alongside the duplication fee. That fee depends on how the material is being used. We have a fee schedule available but sometimes we even find it a little difficult to decipher which fee is applicable, so it’s better if researchers contact us first to ask before paying.
In the case of today’s request, the publication was not only educational but being done under the auspices of a non-profit agency, so no commercial use fees apply.
So to make it as easy as possible, we just generally suggest that anybody interested in using any of our images in any project–including online ones!–send us a quick email first, telling us what s/he wants to use and for what purpose. Then we, the reference archivists, can figure out how much it will cost and what forms will need to be filled out.
How interesting! This touches on what I am currently studying in my information ethics course. It is nice to read about real-world examples of the implications and processes behind copyright law. You’ve managed to explain some pretty complex legal stuff very eloquently. Thanks for sharing.