In Fall 2018, Copyright Services began a pilot rights review project of material, mainly images, available through the Digital Collections (DC). The original goal was to research the copyright status of material in the DC and to select the appropriate rightsstatement to submit material to the Digital Public Library of America. We also had a goal of learning what content may be in the public domain. In beginning this project, we were inspired by the work of the University of Michigan’s Copyright Review Management System and the New York Public Library in determining copyright status of items in their collections.

We have had at least one student, and as many as three, working on this project since then. We’ve had a student in high school, undergraduates, law and graduate students working with us. Important skills we look for in a student are interest in copyright, research, and strong writing abilities. We provide training on copyright and how to research rights status to each student.

We ask the students to create detailed research reports on the artists and creators as listed in the DC. Here’s what the students look for and where they look:

Information for the rights review:

  • Who created the work and in what capacity (e.g. individual v. employee)?
  • What type of work are we evaluating?
  • Where was the work created/published?
  • When was the work created/published?
  • Why was the work created (to be used for a private/internal purpose or to be distributed to the public)?

Where they look:

The students access internal and external facing databases within the libraries. They may also visit the collection in person, search for registration and renewal records through the U.S. Copyright Office’s Copyright Catalog and through earlier digitized copies of the Catalog of Copyright Entries, and conduct outside online research on the creators in order to better understand the work they created and their professional lives.

The students also now use spreadsheets to track item level information for each collection.

These two documents (the narrative research document and the excel spreadsheet) will eventually be available for our curators and librarians to use.  

The process can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the depth of research needed. We cannot say for certain how long a review will take since the type of content and creators can vary. A typical rights review may involve research into the creator, their employment history, the publication a work was distributed in, a search through copyright registration and renewal files, and determination of public domain status under U.S. copyright law. 

We are undertaking this rights review to provide more complete and accurate information, specifically about copyright for the collections that researchers and the general public can access online. We appreciate the help and support that we’ve received so far. Because copyright creators and rightsholders are important in determining copyright ownership and status, the rights reviews are, where possible, focused on a particular author or creator. To continue to move forward we have requested from our colleagues in the Libraries:

  • Departmental priorities for authors/collections
  • Any known information/resources about the creators, for example:
    • birth/death dates
    • creation dates
    • copyright dates/notice
    • work history

This project has been extremely worthwhile and hopefully others can see the value in the work we are doing. For our students, we are providing meaningful work. The students learn or enhance their attention to detail, research, and writing skills. Additionally, they are able to see a tangible outcome of their work in updates to the Digital Collections or progression for other digital projects within the Libraries.

We have expanded the reviews to include content that may or may not be added to the DC. These additional reviews have varying levels of research and evaluation of status, but it has increased our involvement in looking into rights status for content for our Libraries.

If you are interested in learning more about how to get started with your own rights review project, please get in touch with us.


Additional Materials:

Copyright Review Student Training Manual

Ballinger, Linda, Brandy Karl, and Anastasia Chiu. 2017. “Providing Quality Rights Metadata for Digital Collections Through RightsStatements.Org.” Pennsylvania Libraries: Research & Practice 5 (2): 144–58.