1. To clarify terms of copyright, intellectual property, and physical ownership rights concerning objects in the public domain
  2. To provide assistance to scholars negotiating access with cultural heritage repositories
  3. To explain scholars’ needs to museums, libraries, and other repositories
  4. To explore how institutions may allow scholars greater access to images
  5. To establish practices that enable institutions, scholars, and publishers to form mutually beneficial relationships


  • Respecting Copyright and Intellectual Property
  • All countries distinguish between the physical property of an object (image, text, art work) and intellectual property. Only the latter is protected by copyright. Rights of physical property are regulated by a contract between the owner and the user. Ownership rights should not be confused with intellectual property rights, even when the object in question is unique.
  • Access to unique historic objects, images, or texts – cultural heritage – is only rarely a copyright issue. Access to cultural heritage is first and foremost a contractual matter, and, as such, is inherently negotiable. Once a contract is signed, scholars must abide by the terms of use stipulated in the signed contract. To obtain access to collections or individual objects within collections, scholars frequently sign agreements containing clauses that define access. Prior to signing any access agreement, scholars must feel certain that access, that is, how they are going to be allowed to use the material they are consulting, has been carefully defined.

For Curators of Museums, Libraries, and Image Repositories

  • Museums, libraries, collections, and private owners of objects of cultural heritage must always respect the difference between the intellectual property and the physical property of the objects they hold. Repositories should define access to cultural heritage objects solely as owners, not as copyright holders. Owners, for their part, should not unduly restrict the public domain. Instead, they should recognize that they, too, as owners of objects in the public domain, exercise responsibility for cultural heritage. Owners should also be aware that scholarly publishing safeguards against misuse and/or misappropriation of objects. Through cooperation with humanities scholars, the holders of objects gain recognition as custodians of culture.
  • Museums or collections should seek to cooperate with non-commercial image archives specializing in open access for educational purposes.
  • If museums, libraries, or other repositories outsource digitization to companies, their contracts with vendors should stipulate the terms of scholarly use. As regards scholarly access, museums, libraries, and image repositories should negotiate reduced fees, or waive fees altogether, for scholars.
  • Institutions should consider distinguishing between academic or commercial use by some standard other than print run. Rather than counting copies, they could consider content. Rules for the scholarly use of objects should apply equally to both print and online publications.
  • Scholars deserve access to information about reproduction rights and permissions – particularly if the repository in question has outsourced the management of reproduction rights to a third party.
  • Scholars need high resolution files, for work both on- and offline.

For Scholars

  • Scholars should be aware that preconditions to the use and re-use of objects in the public domain are negotiable. Restrictions to cultural heritage items derive from ownership rights, not intellectual copyright. Access to objects, images, or texts is defined by individual owners’ decisions and individual contracts. Scholars must respect that the owners of objects incur costs in making objects available to humanities researchers.
  • Scholars have an obligation to attribute as accurately as possible. The scholar’s responsibility does not end with the intellectual property of an object. Scholars must also behave responsibly toward the owners of the physical objects, images, or text they use. Correct attribution is part of each scholar’s contribution to a relationship based on trust and mutual benefit.

- Scholarly Use: Using and re-using digital images of cultural heritage items for scholarly publications, i.e. printed works as well as online and e-publications. Scholarly use should not be defined by print-run or hits, but solely by content.
- Intellectual Property: Immaterial content of an object, text, or image.
- Public domain: A “commodious domicile for intellectual property that is no longer protected by copyright” (Susan Bielstein).
- Copyright: Protects the intellectual property of an object, text, or image during the life time of the author plus (at minimum) an additional seventy years (depending on national legislation).