Archival Science

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 45–64 | Cite as

Only with your permission: how rights holders respond (or don’t respond) to requests to display archival materials online

  • Dharma Akmon
Original paper


Archival repositories are increasingly considering mass digitization as a means of meeting user expectations that materials be available online, remotely. Copyright is frequently noted as a significant obstacle to these efforts, but little empirical data exist on the copyright permissions process in archives. This article reports the findings of a study of the copyright permissions process for the Jon Cohen AIDS Research Collection at the University of Michigan. Specifically, the study sought to reveal how much effort is required to seek copyright permissions, what the results of those efforts would be, and whether or not there were traits of documents or copyright holders that were associated with accept or denial status. The study found that significant time is required to contact and negotiate with rights holders and that the biggest obstacle to getting permission is non-response. Of those requests that get a response, the vast majority are to grant permission. While few of the requests were met with denial, the data suggest that commercial copyright holders are much more likely to deny permission than other types of copyright holders. The data also show that adherence to the common policy of only displaying online those documents with explicit permission will likely result in substantially incomplete online collections.


Copyright Digitization projects Digital archives Digital libraries Access 



I would like to thank Professor Margaret Hedstrom and Professor Elizabeth Yakel for their extensive and generous help with this research and in reviewing the manuscript. I am also indebted to members of the Archives Research Group at University of Michigan for their gracious and helpful feedback; the Center for Statistical Consultation and Research (CSCAR) at the University of Michigan, especially Brady West, for assistance with the statistical analyses; Alissa Centivany for her help understanding some of the intricacies of copyright law; Jon Cohen; University of Michigan Library; and the Cohen Project staff. This research was funded by a grant from the John D. Evans Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of InformationUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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