Hat tip to reader Steve Ward, who told me about this in a comment to the last blog post….

There is an article on the topic of the duration of copyright protection in the business section of today’s New York Times. This is obviously an important topic that is receiving a great deal of attention in a number of different sectors.

Perhaps Congress needs to step up and clarify some of these issues so that researchers know what they can and cannot do with a given source.

Scridb filter


  1. Don
    Fri 01st Jun 2007 at 8:18 am

    The cynic in me says this is unlikely unless some researcher lobbyists turn up….

  2. Paul Taylor
    Fri 01st Jun 2007 at 9:38 pm


    Great discussions here! I especially noticed your comment, “The big question is whether one must obtain permission to use materials in university and local historical society collections. I usually take the position that, irrespective of what the university or historical society says, this material is in the public domain and that I don’t need permission to use it, and that I certainly don’t need to pay for the privilege of using it.”

    But what about this perspective? It seems that many of these institutions are private and while they may not possess copyright, they do “own” the physical document and are probably under no legal obligation to allow the public to see and/or use what they own. Wouldn’t they have the right to charge a fee to use their privately-owned archives? Kinda like the freak show at the circus; if you wanna see the two-headed pig, you gotta pony up a dollar, right?

    As we once discussed, the big pebble in my shoe is the WIDE disparity in fees from one institution to the next. Me thinks the issue has little to do with copyright and “permission” and everything to do with generating revenue.

    Granted, these archives, museums, and historical societies are all businesses that need to have cash flow and income in order to survive. I have no problem with covering their xeroxing and postage costs, but sometimes it just seems outrageous. For instance, particular historical society quoted me a fee of $15 for photocopying and mailing to me ONE piece of paper!


  3. Sat 02nd Jun 2007 at 11:43 am


    Is it possible that the fees are used as a disincentive? I know from my own experience in customer support that it’s often just as much work to change a comma on someone’s website as to replace an entire page of text. I’d imagine that making photocopies of records has a similarly low marginal cost and high fixed cost.


  4. Sat 02nd Jun 2007 at 3:53 pm


    I see a dfifference between giving access and giving permission to use. In my mind, once they give access, they have absolutely no right to deny the right to use because the material is, by definition, in the public domain.

    And Ben, you may well be on to something.


  5. Dave Powell
    Sun 03rd Jun 2007 at 6:51 am

    In almost all cases, I find the fees to be reasonable.

    I just did a quick count – I have visited or corresponded with 141 different archival holdins to gather Chickamauga material. In virtually all cases, My fees were the cost of copies and mailing, or at most a $10 or $15 set up fee.

    I have hired researchers in the past, and usually been disappointed. I have found that I can do a far better job in getting all the nooks and crannies. I have had a couple of really great volunteers, of course, who are as tenacious as I am.

    Only twice have I been faced with really outrageous costs. Once I was billed $200 for about 10 pages, without warning. (their cover letter told me I was going to be charged about $15 plus mailing costs.) I protested, paid something like $30, and in hindsight they agreed with me and sent me back a nice letter back apologizing for the fee.

    But there is definitely an aspect of weeding out the casual inquiries in the fee structures.

    I also get the sense that most institutions aren’t really all that worried about the permission to publish rights. they give out the forms because they feel they have to in order to defend their turf, but it’s not like they check. Only a couple seem to be serious about it.

    I like the ones that don’t ask for permission, but instead request a copy of the finished work for their holding. I think that is a very cool way to go about it.

    Dave Powell

  6. Sun 03rd Jun 2007 at 4:19 pm


    “I just did a quick count – I have visited or corresponded with 141 different archival holdins to gather Chickamauga material. In virtually all cases, My fees were the cost of copies and mailing, or at most a $10 or $15 set up fee.”

    The cost per page copy seems to vary wildly between institutions. What would you say the average was for the 141 places you had contact with?


  7. Dave Powell
    Sun 03rd Jun 2007 at 7:37 pm


    the vast bulk of those that I visited in person – no charge, except for copy costs and mailing (If I could not take it with.)

    Those that I corresponded with (about 1/3) $15 set up was the norm.

    In fact, I have had a much harder time with ILL fees – some places want to charge as much as $15-$25 per Reel of film. That is where the bulk of my costs have come.

    the moral of the story is that the archival world likes self-serve. You show up, pull the reels/documents, and put in your photocopy requests. If they have to do it, they charge $15-$25 per hour, plus costs.

    I leave on a three day trek on tuesday. After all this time, I still love the hunt the most…

    Dave Powell

  8. Sun 03rd Jun 2007 at 9:14 pm

    That’s one thing I like about my local library system. They will pay the first $10 per item for anything I want to get through ILL.

  9. Paul Taylor
    Mon 04th Jun 2007 at 4:37 pm


    You make a good point. Come to think of it, the institutions that I’ve dealt with that charged an access fee (usually levied by historical societies or private libraries to non-members) never charged any other type of permission or use fee.


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