Leading in the Digital World: Opportunities for Canada’s Memory Institutions

digital rights in Canadian museums, archives and libraries

Council of Canadian Academies

I recently experienced the wonderful opportunity of being on the Expert Panel on Memory Institutions and the Digital Revolution organized by the Council of Canadian Academies (the Council). Along with twelve colleagues with various backgrounds including several academics, the director of digital and emerging media at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museums (New York), librarians, and the director and designer from Good, Form and Spectacle (San Francisco), we met in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver several times over an eighteen month period. We talked and talked and discussed and debated and even disagreed with each other from time to time! It was a fascinating and engaging process.

Copyright and licensing issues in memory institutionsThe Council of Canadian Academies is an “independent, not-for-profit organization that supports independent, science-based, authoritative expert assessments to inform pubic policy development in Canada.” The Council studies a broad range of issues and assessments are conducted by independent, multidisciplinary panels of experts from Canada and abroad. Assessments are intended to provide government decision-makers, researchers and stakeholders with information to help them develop researched and innovative public policy.

Canada’s Digital World

Canada, like other countries, is experiencing a digital world like never before. This digital world affects how people interact, the content they create and exchange and the methods Canadians use to create, access and share content. This affects how memory institutions such as libraries, archives museums and galleries locate, maintain and provide access to their holdings. With this in mind, Library and Archives Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academies to assess memory institutions in the digital age and to answer the following question:

How might memory institutions embrace the opportunities and challenges posed by the changing ways in which Canadians are communicating and working in the digital age?

Further direction was provided to the Council with additional four questions including:

How are memory institutions addressing issues posed by new technologies regarding their traditional roles in assigning value, respecting rights and assuring authenticity and reliability?

Leading in the Digital World: Opportunities for Canada's Memory InstitutionsWithin that framework our expert panel went to task. The copyright and licensing issues were discussed in relation to various sections of the final report however in the report, the issues fit nicely into chapter 3, Implications for Memory Institutions. At many times we discussed the Canadian doctrine of fair dealing and the U.S. principle of fair use, exceptions in the Canadian Copyright Act for libraries, archives and museums, contracts and digital licensing issues, as well as global copyright issues. Risk management and practical approaches to dealing with rights issues was also discussed throughout our meetings.

Managing Copyright

Conclusions in chapter 3 of the Council’s report state:

Memory institutions in particular have a number of unique and often complex challenges stemming from their role as collectors and preservers of Canada’s documentary heritage for posterity in a digital age. Indeed, libraries, archives and museums must contend not only with the vast quantities of digitally born information and cultural artefacts now being created, exchanged, and consumed, but also with limitations of Canadian copyright law in dealing with issues created by digital material, potential infringement of moral rights, and issues of global copyright that come with use of the internet for distribution.

Chapter 7 of the Council’s report also recognizes the need for memory institutions to manage copyright and specifically states, “By considering copyright risks in balance with the benefits that digital initiatives bring, memory institutions can best manage the issues in the context of their institutional priorities.”

Copyright and licensing issues in memory institutionsI thank the Council for asking me to participate on the Panel of Experts and for exposing me to many memory institution digital issues that go far beyond copyright, moral rights, and licensing issues. It is a brave new world out there and the more we know and discuss and work together, the more we will all benefit in the Digital Age.

Click to access the Council of Canadian Academies. Click to access its report Leading in the Digital World: Opportunities for Canada’s Memory Institutions.

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