Pilot projects on copyrights and usage restrictions on cultural content

These six pilot projects allow us to test the tools and good practices – developed in the context of the ‘Tools for dealing with copyrights and usage restrictions on cultural content’ project – with cultural heritage collections which each have their own characteristics.

Kusterfgoed and COMEET cultural heritage bodies

Both these cultural heritage bodies have collections of photos and postcards which often lack information about their rights holders. The age of the images in the collections means it’s likely they are still protected by copyright, however. Our partners therefore wanted to find out how to remedy this lack of information about copyright status and rights holders, and how they could involve volunteers. 
We proposed working with a phased allocation of rights statements. Collection management organisations can use rights statements to communicate the digital object copyright and re-usage status to their users.


Rights statements are allocated on the basis of a decision tree. As an alternative to risk management practices commonly used in the cultural heritage sector, for images whose rights status is still unclear, we show a rights statement which states that the rights status of the object is uncertain in a first phase. This means organisations do not need to shield the general public from ‘grey collections’ or discourage re-use by claiming copyright on content that they don’t hold the rights for. The 'copyright not evaluated', 'copyright undetermined' and 'no known copyright' declarations are used for this – to ensure collections are given maximum visibility and enable us to anticipate the associated risks. We also translated the rights statement from Rightsstatements.org – an initiative by Europeana and the Digital Public Library of America among others – into Dutch in the context of this project.

Only in a second phase, do we move to the actual clarification of the copyright statuses that cover the images, when we can add more precise rights statements depending on the outcome of our research.

It quickly became clear that we couldn’t apply the exception to the orphan work copyright for these collections. This is because it only covers books, journals, newspapers, magazines and audiovisual collections. Furthermore, careful research or diligent search as a condition for unlocking these collections is very labour-intensive. It requires that you look up certain sources for each object to establish who the rights holder is.

The new exception to the copyright for out-of-commerce works (which is currently being made law in Belgium) does apply, however, for all types of works, will also be usable in practice and is much less labour-intensive. A reasonable effort is all that’s expected here. This means that you don’t need to look up the rightsholders, and only need to establish if the work is still commercially available in your country. Unlike for the orphan works directive, it will also be possible to clarify collection items efficiently in batches. Given the nature of collections managed by cultural heritage bodies, we will be able to do this for the vast majority of them by making use of this copyright exception for out-of-commerce works.

A phased allocation of rights under the out-of-commerce directive, clarifying sub-collections under the out-of-commerce directive as a second step, is a feasible way for collection management organisations to provide maximum access to their collections efficiently while also anticipating the associated risks.

The coronavirus crisis made it difficult to organise a test with the cultural heritage body volunteers, which will therefore take place at a later date in collaboration with Histories vzw. We also need to look into how the copyright status and rightsholders information can be eliminated in the collection management system.

M Leuven

M Leuven used the rights statements to provide access to various types of images (reproductions, photos created by staff members and external parties). We developed a procedure for staff members and volunteers to identify the rights status of these images and configured a user-friendly upload interface on their DAM system, ResourceSpace. Drawing up a model contract for photo assignments is an ongoing task.

Royal Conservatory of Brussels

For the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, we investigated the conditions for making the metadata and content from their collection of sheet music from the public broadcaster available online. A complete list of authors has now been drawn up. This still needs to be enriched with author metadata which will allow them to identify content in the public domain or copyrighted material in a grey zone. We’re using this to draw up a plan to provide access to this sub-collection.

The Letterenhuis

The Letterenhuis wanted to be able to trace the rights status of its poster collection. An internal workflow was created to document the rights status of objects based on legal advice. This has now been tested, but we still need to draw up generic flowcharts.

STAN theatre collective

Performing arts organisation STAN theatre collective needed clear rights agreements with photographers when creating new photographic content. Model agreements were drawn up so the photos can be used under certain conditions by both the organisation itself and the general public in the near future

Do you have any questions about the pilot projects? Then please contact our colleague Sam, who will be happy to help you further.

Do you have a question?
Contact Sam Donvil
Expertise Officer