On Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking to a large auditorium full of lawyers, law students, archivists, and librarians at Columbia University’s Kernochan Center for Law, Media, and the Arts. The event, “Digital Archives: Navigating the Legal Shoals“, followed on the heels of our event, Undue Diligence: Seeking Low-risk Strategies for Making Collections of Unpublished Materials More Accessible.
The outcomes of the two events made me all the more certain that it’s OK for archivists and librarians to do their jobs, caring for and providing access to the collections in their custody.
During both events, those well-versed in all the details of the laws regarding unpublished works and copyright and privacy were willing to say that there’s not that much to fret about. No one is being sued.
The consensus: There are low risk ways to make collections of unpublished works available online. Just do it with a clear notice and sincere request for additional information. Be aggressive about putting things up and aggressive about taking them down (if you learn of a valid reason for doing so).
And remember, it’s your counsel’s job to offer advice about the legal risks, but it is your job to make the decision.
Speakers and advisors from the Undue Diligence event, along with representatives from the RLG Partnership, put together a one-page document entitled, “Well-intentioned practice for putting digitized collections of unpublished materials online“. If we all accept this as reasonable practice, we can act confidently that our actions are honorable, appropriate, and defensible. If ever the need should arise.
PS. it won’t.
Ricky Erway, Senior Program Officer at OCLC Research, worked with staff from the OCLC Research Library Partnership on projects ranging from managing born digital archives to research data curation. Ricky left OCLC in 2015.