Legal Guide for Archives with News Collections


[caption id="attachment_2613" align="alignleft" width="300"]Flowchart resource to help archivists
examine potential legal risks involved local TV news collections Flowchart resource to help archivists examine potential legal risks involved local TV news collections[/caption]

When local TV stations switched from shooting on film to mostly and then entirely shooting on videotape, most didn't want to maintain their film libraries. Luckily, instead of throwing all of this wonderful historical footage away, many chose to donate it to a local libraries and archives. The problem we face now is that we have these rich collections with their unique local content, and we just don't know what we're allowed to do with them. In most cases, even if the stations kept paperwork, like contracts and materials releases (which many didn't), there's little chance that made it to the archive. So with little to no paperwork and often no stations to turn to for answers (many have gone out of business or change ownership since the 1970s, when this shift occurred), what's an archive to do? Just let the film sit there, rather than sharing it with a public that is most likely curious, interested, and nostalgic?

One of the goals of this project was to extensively examine the rights issues associated with local TV news collections in archives, and then to share our findings. WGBH's legal department teamed up with the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, based out of Harvard Law School. We created hypothetical archival scenarios, to help bridge the gap between the project archivists and the lawyers. The first product of this collaboration was a primer on the laws that archivists would be most likely to run into when examining the risks of digitizing and publishing local TV news collections. The primer was extensive, well researched, and ultimately daunting, especially for a non-lawyer. We struggled to find a way to make it more user-friendly for archivists, so that you didn't need to already have some legal expertise to find the primer useful. Eventually we decided that a flowchart outlining the different types of laws (copyright, trademark, torte, and contract), would be a easier, less daunting, and more useful resource. In the small space of the flowchart, we weren't able to address the complexities of each type of law; however, it is very useful is discovering which laws it will be necessary to look into further. The flowchart we have published is meant to be used as a tool for starting to think about the possibilities of your collection. It is in no way a substitute for legal advice.

If you're interested in learning more about our decision making process, feel free to contact us at bostonlocaltv[at]wgbh[dot]org.

Additional resources we've consulted and recommend include:

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries (Association of Research Libraries and American University Center for Media and Social Impact, January 2012)

Peter B. Hirtle, Emily Hudson, and Andrew T. Kenyon, "Copyright & Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for Digitization for U.S. Libraries, Archives, & Museums" (Cornell University Library, 2009) (CC BYNCND 3.0)

Peter B. Hirtle, "Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States, 1 January 2014" (Cornell University Copyright Information Center, 2014) (CC BY 3.0)

United States Copyright Office, "Legal Issues in Mass Digitization: A Preliminary Analysis and Discussion Document" (Copyright Office, October 2011)