Last spring, we were awfully excited to see the DPLA/Europeana release of RightStatements.org, a suite of standardized rights statements for describing the copyright and re-use status of digital resources. We have never had a comprehensive approach towards rights management for the Duke Digital Repository, but with the release of RightsStatements.org, we now feel we are equipped to wrestle that beast.
Managing and communicating rights statuses for digital collections has long been a challenge for us. The DDR currently allows for the application and display of Creative Commons licenses, which can be used for situations where the copyright holders themselves can assert the rights statuses for their own resources. RightsStatements.org fills a giant gap for us, in that it allow us to assign machine-readable rights to repository resources for which we know something about the rights status but do not hold the copyrights for. Additionally, these statements accommodate for the often fluid and ambiguous nature of copyrights for cultural heritage materials.
So, it’s been nearly a year since the statements were published, and during that time a community best practice has started to develop. The approach we have decided on for rights management in the Duke Digital Repository follows this emerging best practice, and involves using one field – Dublin Core Rights, as that is the metadata standard our repository uses – to store either a Creative Commons or RightsStatements.org URI, and nothing but that URI, and another field – a local property which we are calling ‘Rights Note’ – to store free text contextual information relating to the rights status of the resource (as long as it’s not in conflict with rights statement applied). Having machine-processable rights statuses means we will have a much better rights management strategy (we don’t currently have a way to report on the rights status of repository materials), as well as the ability to clearly communicate to users what they can and cannot do with resources they find.
Now that we’ve got a strategy for doing rights management, however, we need to develop a strategy for implementing it. We’ll tackle the low-hanging fruit first – collections that have a single, identifiable creator or for which the date ranges put them into the public domain – and then move on to the trickier stuff – for example, collections representing multiple or unidentified creators. Digital collections of archival materials present especially difficult challenges, as the the repository ‘itemness’ is frequently at the folder-level, meaning that the ‘item’, in these cases, might contain works by multiple creators of varying rights statuses (think of a folder of correspondence, for example).
The good news is, there are a lot of smart people working on addressing these challenges. Laura Capell and Elliott Williams of the University of Miami published a helpful poster, Assigning Rights Statements to Legacy Digital Collections describing the the decision matrix they developed to help them apply rights statements to their digital collections, and as I was writing this blog post, the Society of American Archivists circulated their Guide to Implementing Rights Statements from RightsStatements.org (nice timing, SAA!). I’m hoping to find some good nuggets of wisdom in its pages. We feel especially well-positioned to tackle rights management here at Duke, as Dave Hansen, who was deeply involved in the development of RightsStatements.org, joined us as our Director of Copyright and Scholarly Communications last year. We’d love to hear from other organizations as they develop their own local implementations – we know we’re not in this alone!