Owning a physical document, image, or recording and owning the copyright to that item are two separate things. Although all physical materials in the University Archives collections are the property of Drexel University, that does not mean Drexel holds the copyright to them.
University Archives holdings fall into four copyright categories, outlined here with examples:
- Drexel University holds copyright: This category includes many of Drexel’s institutional records that were created by employees in the course of University business, as well as many items that have been donated to the University Archives by faculty, alumni/ae, and others.
- Copyright is held by another person, organization, or business: When a collection is donated to the University Archives, copyright to any incoming correspondence it contains is typically still held by the people who wrote the letters and emails. The same is true for letters and emails received by Drexel departments. When a University department commissions a professional photographer to take photos, the photographer often retains copyright to the images. Clips from commercial television broadcasts are typically under copyright to the broadcaster.
- Work is in the public domain: This includes all works created by the federal government and some state governments, anything published in the U.S. more than 95 years ago, and works whose copyright has expired. Visit Cornell University Library’s Copyright Information Center for more information on what is currently in the public domain.
- Copyright holder is unknown or cannot be contacted: In many cases, there’s not enough information to determine who holds copyright to a work. For example, we may not know who created the work or when it was created, or because the copyright holder is deceased but their heirs are unknown. In other cases, we have a name for the presumptive copyright holder but no way to contact them. Materials in one of these situations are called “orphan works” and present special challenges for anyone who wants to reproduce or distribute them.
Do I need permission to get copies of materials from the University Archives?
As a rule, if a collection is not restricted, researchers are free to use its contents for private study, scholarship, or research, or to share them with students as part of a course. These activities are typically covered by the “fair use” provision of copyright law, although the exact scope of what’s covered is subject to some interpretation. For these purposes, University Archives allows you to photograph collection materials (without a flash, please!) or request scans or photocopies without any special permission.
However, if you want to publish an item from the University Archives, post it on a website, share it on social media, or include it in a physical or virtual exhibit, you need to get permission from the copyright holder and from Drexel University Archives.
For items where Drexel holds the copyright, we will draw up a permission agreement specifying which collection items may be used, who may use them, and for what purpose. For items where someone else holds the copyright, it is your responsibility to secure the copyright holder’s written permission before requesting permission from the University Archives.
Archives staff reserves the right to refuse a copying request if, in our judgment, fulfilling the request would involve violation of the copyright law.
Does the University Archives charge a fee for getting copies or using its materials?
The Drexel University Archives does not currently charge fees for non-commercial use of its collection materials. We do charge for use in commercial publications. For details, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.