Copyright exceptions: an archivist’s perspective

Author:Jean Dryden
Position:International Council of Archives, Paris, France

An organization’s archives may consist of correspondence, reports, financial and legal documents, recordings of public speeches, publicity materials; an individual’s archives may include letters, diaries, photograph albums, scrapbooks or home movies, for example.

The Universal Declaration of Archives, adopted by UNESCO in November 2011, clearly expresses the public interest role that archives fulfill:

“Archives are a unique and irreplaceable heritage passed from one generation to another ... They are authoritative sources of information underpinning accountable and transparent administrative actions. They play an essential role in the development of societies by safeguarding and contributing to individual and community memory. Open access to archives enriches our knowledge of human society, promotes democracy, protects citizens’ rights and enhances the quality of life.”

Archives can also refer to an organization whose mission is to preserve the documentary heritage of a particular institution. For example, the United Nations, the United Arab Emirates, the Government of Malawi, the City of Montréal, Cambridge University and the Coca-Cola Company all operate archives to preserve archival materials that fall within their respective acquisition mandates.

Archivists and other professions

The professionals who assess, collect, organize, preserve and provide access to archival holdings are archivists. They are sometimes confused with other related professionals, such as librarians and museum curators. While all three professions collect, preserve and make materials accessible for research, in general they differ significantly in the material with which they work. Materials in archival collections are unique and often irreplaceable, whereas libraries can usually replace worn-out or lost books and other published materials in their holdings. Museum curators collect, study and interpret mostly three-dimensional objects, while the archivist works primarily with paper, film, audio and digital records.

Why do archives need copyright exceptions?

Copyright law aims to achieve a balance between the interests of creators, so they receive a just reward for their works, and the public interest in terms of ensuring the public has access to such works. In this way, copyright law supports further creation as well as the growth of knowledge and culture and its diffusion.

Archives play an essential role in serving the public interest by preserving and making such...

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