Friday, January 30, 2015

Making that pesky "Rights" field a little less pesky

Those of you who have submitted collections to the Mountain West Digital Library know that "Rights" is one of MWDL's eight required fields according to the MWDL Dublin Core Application Profile. The reason for this is that it's incredibly important for users to know if there are any copyright restrictions on the items available through our library. The copyright status of an item determines whether or not an item can be used and how. Can it be downloaded? Shared? Reproduced? Remixed? Used in a PowerPoint?  Posted to social media? The rights of an item determines those things.

Unfortunately, rights statements in digital collections don't always give the user much guidance on how the item can actually be used. Sometimes the Rights field just says, "All rights reserved. Contact [holding institution] for permission to use." Sometimes it says, "©1978. Smithsonian Institute." In an ideal case, it may say, "Public domain. May be used freely without permission or restriction." Really it can say anything because the Rights field is a free-text field.

Recently the DPLA did an assessment of 1.4 million rights statements from their service hubs as part of one of their new projects "Getting It Right On Rights." They determined that almost 50% of the statements that they looked at said "All Rights Reserved" and 13% of the records were in the public domain. Only 3% of records had a Creative Commons license on them and 7% had no copyright statement at all.

At MWDL we are encouraging our partners to pay close attention to the Rights field and to create rights statements that help users to know what they can do with the items they find online (this is often referred to as an "access statement"). For instance, yesterday I recommended this language to a partner who wants to start using a Creative Commons license on her materials. It's the most restrictive CC license but it's still light-years better in the information it conveys to users.

Here was the suggested language that I gave to our partner:

 ©[copyright holder’s name], [date of creation for the work]. This item is available under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND license. The license allows this work to be downloaded and shared with others with proper attribution to the copyright holder, but this item cannot be changed in any way or used for commercial purposes. For more information about this license go to

Any user who finds this partner's items online now knows exactly what they can legally do with the work. They can share it and use it for scholarly/ educational purposes. They cannot however alter the items (sorry, no funny memes) and they can't profit off the item commercially (e.g. You can't print the items on aprons and sell them).

Inspired? Want to learn more about copyright? Check out this great list of resources below, compiled by our friends at DPLA: 

Articles, blog posts, and presentations
Blogs to follow 

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