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Page history last edited by epfotenhauer@wils.wisc.edu 10 years, 10 months ago

Copyright is an essential issue to consider when selecting materials to display online. Before beginning a digitization project, you must make certain that the materials you will digitize fit one of the following categories:

     (a) materials are in the public domain

     (b) you are making a fair use of them under U.S. copyright law

     (c) the copyright holder has granted permission, in writing, to publish the materials online


A rights statement is a mandatory metadata element required of WHO Content Providers. See our Sample Rights Statements for examples of copyright statements used by WHO contributors.


Copyright and Digital Collections

These sources provide good overviews of copyright law and how it applies to digital collections of historic materials.


Public Domain 

If a work is in the public domain, that means it can be used freely and is not subject to copyright restrictions. Public domain status varies depending on the type of work and when it was created.


Fair Use

     Cultural institutions may wish to digitize materials that are not in the public domain and whose copyright they do not own. In this case, they should examine whether the material and the way they wish to use it may be covered by fair use. Fair use is an exemption under U.S. copyright law that allows institutions to legally use copyrighted material without explicit permission of the copyright owner.


     Educational use alone is not enough to constitute fair use. In today's fast moving digital environment many of the "fair uses" are under debate. What is "fair"? As long as the use is "fair," i.e., does not infringe on the rights of the holder of the copyright, the user is not likely to be in violation of copyright; however, continuous use, selling the item or any portion of it, and/or charging for use, is very likely to be beyond "fair use."

                                                                                                    --from North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online project, Digitization Guidelines,

                                                                                                         Chapter 3, "Legal Considerations" 



Creative Commons

If your digital project involves the creation of original content or the use (with permission!) of copyrighted material, you may wish to consider applying a Creative Commons license.


Read more about copyright issues . . . 

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