Jodie Double, our Digital Content Team Leader, outlines how the Library cares for orphan works through risk management.

The Library is approaching a milestone of 1 million digitised images and as our digital collections grow our processes and procedures are evolving to include risk management for material still in copyright.

The Library’s approach to digitisation for inclusion on the Library website has been based upon two principles:

  • only digitise material out of copyright
  • digitise where we have permission from the copyright holder to make items available through Special Collections Search.

This approach means a large percentage of books and archives are not available digitally because they are orphan works.  We are now introducing a risk managed approach for orphan work digitisation that will increase the amount of content available to the world.

So briefly what are orphan works and how do they affect decisions for collection digitisation?

According to “Orphan works are creative works or performances that are subject to copyright – like a diary, photograph, film or piece of music – for which one or more of the rights holders is either unknown or cannot be found.”

Medieval Manuscripts are excellent examples of low risk orphan works held in many collections around the world, for example the Breviarium ad Usum Parisiensem held at Leeds.  Did you know this work is still in copyright and will be until 31 December 2039 under the terms of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988? We are digitising material like this for the public to engage with, due to it being low risk as determined by the web2rights risk management calculator.

BC MS 2 Breviarium ad Usum Persiensem. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Developing a risk managed approach requires implementing safeguards, procedures, staff training and policies.  One step the Library has taken is to have a visible takedown policy so a potential rights holder can get in contact if they see an image online that they believe they hold rights to.

Using this risk management approach enables us to care for orphan works by digitising them, thereby reducing damage caused by handling and importantly increasing the amount of content available for research and study.

As more material goes online there are increasing layers of protection and care behind the scenes for digital content.  A future blog post will cover digital preservation and the actions the Library is taking to care for digital collections now and for the future.