Digitisation, Copyright and Collections Online

Digitisation, Copyright and Collections Online

Jim Barr and Mary Barr asked a good question about digitisation priorities in their blog. There are 3 parts to digitising Te Papa’s Collection.

  1. Information about the artwork or object – information about all the art collection was released on Collections Online last year
  2. Photography – do we have a digital photograph?
  3. Copyright – do we have the right to publish the digital photograph online?
  1. is where I get involved. The Collections Online team are doing a blog post about how we digitise the collections and that should be up shortly. But in the meantime back to my favourite subject of copyright! (I confess I’m a bit of a copyright geek).

The reason copyright is important is that unless we have the permission of the copyright holder we can’t put the work online.

I get involved in clearing copyright for Collections Online when

  • artworks and objects are acquired for the collection
  • images are requested from Te Papa’s Picture Library or taken for Te Papa Press Publications
  • artworks or objects are photographed before going on display or borrowed by other institutions
  • when audits of collection areas are conducted; and also
  • when objects are digitised as part of our Collections Online programme
Bean poles, by Henry Cliffe, lithograph. Gift of Rex Nan Kivell, 1951.
Bean poles, by Henry Cliffe, lithograph. Gift of Rex Nan Kivell, 1951.

Unfortunately I’m not always successful in getting copyright licences. Some copyright holders are not comfortable with images of artworks or objects being reproduced online. Sometimes copyright holders put restrictions on the licences which would stop us from including Collections Online in projects like Matapihi or DigitalNZ. There are also times where finding the copyright holder is really difficult and involves a lot of detective work.

I understand it’s hard for people to tell the difference between times we don’t have permission or times when we don’t have the images available. I’ve been thinking about what we can do about this and I’ve noticed that the Tate Gallery have a thumbnail that shows the difference between artworks still to be photographed and artworks with copyright restrictions. Maybe that’s something that we could work on.

On a positive note in the last couple of weeks I’ve received another seven signed copyright licences covering artworks by Philippa Blair, Claudia Pond Eyley, Michael EatonHelen Rockel, Henry Cliffe, Gordon H. Brown and Frederick Carter.


  1. Thanks for your comment artandmylife. The Collections Online Team are going to post about the digitisation process. I see the copyright clearance process as an intersecting process to digitisation. Obviously copyright does determine what can get reproduced in Collections Online but the two processes work alongside one another. My priorities are influenced by what projects are on the go but I make sure I request copyright licences for all the works associated with a particular maker rather than just the one work the project is interested in. (That’s the old way of working). I end up clearing a lot more works than each project needs. I’ve got a dedicated amount of time I spend on Collections Online copyright assessment, research and clearance every week because I have work that doesn’t involve copyright clearances so I need to be smart about copyright clearances to make sure I get the best results for Te Papa.

  2. I think the responsiveness of this post is excellent. Although the priority issue is still a little unclear. Are you going through the collection alphabetically (or something) or sorting out the copyright and digitization ad hoc?

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