The registration form we ask all of our readers to sign on their first visit includes a Data Protection declaration. Readers sign the declaration to assure us they will not use personal data unfairly.
Data Protection is a law which prevents people from sharing personal data, for example people’s dates of birth or their addresses, if that information is not already published. It only relates to people who are still alive but many of our papers are modern enough to contain such information.
So why is Data Protection so important when using archives?
If the information in a file is particularly sensitive, we mark the file ‘closed’ or ‘restricted’ and don’t allow access to it until the person whose information it contains is dead.
When you write an essay or tell people about what you have found in archives, you should think about whether you are sharing information which you should be treating as confidential – remember the agreement you signed and if in doubt, ask the archivist.
Copyright relates to intellectual property. It is different to physical ownership. Though King’s College owns letters from D.H. Lawrence to E.M. Forster, they only own the physical object, the piece of paper. D.H. Lawrence’s heirs own the rights to the words on it, the intellectual property. It can be quite complicated so this is just a rough guide. If you have any questions, particularly when you are carrying out any research, just ask an archivist and they will try to help.
Copyright belongs to the creator of a document so a single collection can include hundreds of copyright owners. The papers of Rupert Chawner Brooke held at King’s College Archive Centre include letters which he received and photographs of him. Although he received these items, he obviously did not create them so did not own the copyright on them.
Copyright lasts for a certain amount of time, which depends on the following:
When did the author(s) die?
Has the document been published? (anything unpublished will be in copyright until December 2039, even if it was written in 1066)
When was the document published relative to the author’s death?
What sort of document is it?
In most cases, copyright will expire seventy years after the death of the document’s creator, although in some cases it will last longer due to publication after the author's death. When somebody dies, their copyright is passed on to their next of kin unless they assigned it to someone during their lifetime or in their will. In the case of famous writers, this person is known as their literary executor.
Here is an example of how copyright works.
Not only were Rupert Brooke and E.M. Forster both writers, they were both members of a secret society called the Apostles. That society would meet and read their academic papers to each other. On 24 November 1911, E.M. Forster wrote to Rupert Brooke saying that he would incorporate Brooke’s paper on art into a novel.
Please see the letter at the bottom of this section.
Once he received it, the letter belonged to Rupert Brooke. It is now owned by the Brooke Trustees, who have deposited it at King’s College, Cambridge. If you wanted to use the letter in a book, blog or other form of publication, you would have to contact the owner of E.M. Forster’s copyright (his literary executor).
In addition to clearing copyright, if you also wanted to show an image of the original document, rather than just quoting from it, you would have to contact the owner of the physical document to ask for a digital image and permission to use it.
Regarding the contents of the letter, it is not clear whether Brooke gave Forster permission to use his paper on art in the novel but if he did, he would have approved a (non-formal) copyright request.
Finding who owns copyright
How do you find out who owns the copyright? For many famous writers, this information is available on a website called WATCH. In some cases, this will give the name of somebody who ‘administers’ the copyright, rather than owning it. That is still the person to contact.
If a person’s copyright owner/administrator is not listed, it is usually possible to find out who it is by looking at their will, although this can involve a bit more work.
There are some exemptions to copyright, for example ‘fair dealing’ might allow you to use short quotes from a document. There are also exemptions relating to educational use, however it is always best to ask an expert before using anything you think might be in copyright.
Did you Know?
WATCH is a database of copyright contacts for writers, artists, and prominent people in other creative fields which was founded in 1994 and gives guidance on copyright in both the UK and America.
Whereas in a library you may be able to use public photocopiers to take copies of pages from a book, in an archive you will not be allowed to do this yourself. Instead, you will have to complete a form with the reference number of the item(s) you would like a copy of. The form usually has a statement about copyright which you will be expected to read and sign.
Sometimes archivists will tell you they can’t copy something. This is usually due to copyright (for example, we can’t copy anything published in the last 70 years but librarians can), or the terms on which the documents were donated to the repository.
For an example of a collection which is held at King’s College, Cambridge, but which requires special permission before any copies can be produced see the ‘Access and Use’ section of the fonds level description of the Hayward Bequest (the papers of T.S. Eliot).
Copies of archival documents can cost more than library photocopies. They may also take a few weeks to prepare, especially if the documents are particularly fragile.
If you need the information in a rush or the archivist can’t copy the document you require, you may have no option but to transcribe it. In case of problems like these, it is good to plan ahead when using archives and avoid leaving things until the day before your essay is due to be submitted!
Did You Know?
The papers of Winston Churchill fill 3000 boxes, estimated at over a million individual documents. Its importance to the heritage of Britain has been recognised by UNESCO making the collection a part of its Memory of the World Programme. It took six years to catalogue them (with over 70,000 entries).
Archivists are keen to provide access to their archives whenever they can but they have to balance this with the preservation needs of the records.
Records are sometimes closed because they are too fragile to be handled. Sometimes readers will be given access to surrogates, or the archivist will place the documents on the table and turn pages for the reader, to ensure specialist handling.
Occasionally, a document may be prioritised for conservation but this can take weeks or even months and the reader won’t get to see the document until the work is completed. Conservation is very expensive so this is not always an option. It is unfortunately possible that none of these solutions will be feasible and the reader won’t be able to see the record at all.
When ordering copies of fragile record, readers may be told
The record can’t be copied.
The record can be copied but will require specialist handling/photography, which may take longer and be more expensive.
If you visit a reading room and are concerned about the fragility of the documents you are consulting, ask an archivist for help. They can either assist in the handling or offer advice.
Did You Know?
The oldest record in the King’s College Archive Centre is a grant of land including West Wretham to the Abbey of Bec, written in 1085. (WEW/23)