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Museums' enforcement of rights

Museums' enforcement of rights


Museums' enforcement of digital surrogate rights stifles creativity and research, prompting a proposed framework for improvement

A new study warns that cultural institutions are stifling research, learning, and creativity by wrongly enforcing rules over "digital surrogates," particularly in the reuse of out-of-copyright artworks and artefacts.

Cultural institutions have, according to the study, created a "mess" by claiming and enforcing new rights over reproduction images of works in their collections. This practice enables museums to deny requests for image use in education or research or charge exorbitant fees, ultimately impeding free and creative expression and amounting to censorship.

Dr Andrea Wallace from the University of Exeter Law School highlights the outdated nature of how organizations charge or refuse rights for using "digital surrogates," conflicting with public missions and hindering access to the public domain for research, study, artistic endeavors, and public learning.

The study proposes a new framework to assist cultural institutions in making accurate assessments of copyright rights in digital surrogates, aiming to reduce barriers to accessing collections while protecting intellectual property and educational expertise.

Dr. Wallace emphasizes the need to provide access and improve legal certainty for the public wishing to use out-of-copyright collections. The proposed framework encourages cultural institutions to publish high-quality images online, fostering relevance and potential income streams through open access.

The framework suggests identifying the artwork and assessing its copyright status based on the original artist's lifetime rather than relying on a cultural institution's claim of surrogate copyright. Dr. Wallace argues that cultural institutions can still generate revenue through service fees for image creation and delivery, focusing infringement notices on legitimate claims instead of surrogate copyright.

The study envisions short-term benefits such as compliance with copyright law and sustainable business models, while long-term benefits include supporting the publication of data fit for the 21st century. Open datasets become invaluable for computational processing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, fostering a more responsible and accessible approach to cultural heritage in the digital age.