Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property is an important issue for members because they are unlikely to own all rights to substantial numbers of works in their collections. For museums to be able to research, digitise and display works in their collections which are still in copyright, they have to seek permission from the rights’ owner.  If these owners cannot be found, works often cannot be used. Museums are also rights owners themselves, and license the use of images of works in their collections. Furthermore, as public bodies, museums have to comply with European legislation and Government policy regarding open access to data.

Following the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, the Government has put in place measures to implement some of the changes suggested, including changes to copyright legislation. NMDC represented members' interest in discussions about these changes.

Copyright Guidance and Notices

The Intellectual Property Office has produced a Copyright Notice for museums, galleries and libraries who exhibit works where they do not own the copyright.

The Intellectual Property Office has produced online guidance about the management of copyright. There is guidance on How copyright protects your work, Intellectual property and your work, Ownership of copyright works and Using someone else's intellectual property. 

There is also guidance on how to license, sell or market copyright.

Copyright Exceptions

 A number of changes to copyright legislation - largely changes to copyright exceptions - were made in 2014. Many of these copyright exceptions affect museums and galleries, and allow them to care for the collections without having to go through a labour intensive rights clearance process.

Copyright Exceptions are where someone is able to do use or copy a copyright work for a specific purpose without requiring the permission of the copyright holder. Changes cover the "format shifting" or copying of copyright works held in museum collections for the purpose of preservation; making material accessible for visitors with disabilities; providing copies of certain works for "non-commercial" research; for the purposes of quotation, parody and caricature; and for display on dedicated terminals in museums.

Guidance specifically for museums, galleries, libraries and archives has been produced by the Intellectual Property Office here

Orphan Works

Most publicly-funded museums, galleries, libraries and archives will have objects in their collections which are orphan works. These are works for which the rights owners are unknown or cannot be traced. The 2009 Collections Trust/JISC report In from the Cold estimated that there are approximately 50 million orphan works in public collections. Only a tiny fraction of orphan works have historically been used because of the time taken to complete the diligent search required to establish that the rights’ owners are unknown. This is costly and means cultural institutions have not been unable to realise the full potential of objects in their care.

Two pieces of legislation were passed in 2014 to provide a lawful way for museums to use many of the orphan works in their collections: the EU Orphan Works Directive, and the 2014 Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act which includes provision for an orphan works licensing scheme. The scheme launched in October 2014.

Guidance on how to either use an orphan work under the terms of the EU Directive, or, if required, apply for an orphan work licence is detailed below.

Full details about the Orphan Works Licensing Scheme and the EU Orphan Works Directive are below.


2012 Consultation on Copyright

NMDC submitted a detailed response to the Intellectual Property Office’s Consultation on Copyright in March 2012. The submission outlined some of the challenges facing museums, libraries and archives in relation to copyright and welcomes proposals to enable museums and galleries to more easily use orphan works - items with unknown copyright owners - and permit copying for preservation purposes.  NMDC's response was developed with the Museums IP Network and is counter-signed by the Museums Association, the University Museums Group and the Association of Independent Museums.

Download NMDC response to IPO copyright consultation

Museums IP Network

NMDC’s work on Intellectual Property is guided by the Museums IP Network. The Network is made up of copyright and legal specialists based within the UK’s major museums (as well as the British Library, British Council and the Royal Academy).