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Now You Know: Archival collections are still subject to privacy and copyright laws

(November 2, 2020) - Archives are often viewed as repositories for various types of documents and records, whether it be information related to a community’s cultural identity and history, or vital records to help governments function and make decisions.

Josh Kitchens

Yet, for an archivist, it’s important to be informed of the various copyright and privacy issues that come with processing collections. Joshua Kitchens, assistant professor and director of the Archival Studies program at Clayton State explains that archivists make it their responsibility to offer fair and equitable access to archives.

  • Marketing and Communications: Mr. Kitchens, tell me in detail about your research you’re currently working on related to privacy and copyright with archives?

Joshua Kitchens: That’s a great question. I’m currently working to understand how archivists can explain the various intellectual property issues that archivists encounter. This is in addition to discussing issues around private information that may be found within archival collections.

  • MC: It may not occur to the average person that for some archives, there are issues of the right of archivists or holders of documents to copy or republish the works they collect and preserve. Do archivists automatically retain the rights of works that are in their possession?

JK: No, archives do not immediately gain the right to reproduce or publish materials. This only occurs if the creator of records transfers or provides a license to the archives to publish and make reproductions. Now, this does not mean that there are no ways to use materials without express permission. Copyright law allows what’s referred to as fair use of materials for certain cases. This includes research, educational, and noncommercial usages.

  • MC: How can archivists assure the public has access to archive collections while following copyright laws?

JK: This is done through a few ways. One, we can try to document all the various intellectual property issues and make a researcher aware of these issues. Secondly, we can explain to them what may constituent fair use of these materials. Now archivists can’t expressly say what is a fair use of materials only what fair use is.

  • MC: Archivists also must strike a balance between providing access to records to the public, while recognizing when some information found in collections may need to be kept private?

JK: Yes, this one of our ethical standards as required by various laws. 

  • MC: Do laws including HIPPA and FERPA still apply when it comes to processing and maintaining archives?

JK: Yes, they apply, depending upon the type of records that the archives collect. Each of these laws and others requires certain precautions are taken in maintaining and preserving records.

  • MC: How does an individual ensure when it comes to public records, that private information remains confidential and inaccessible to the public?

JK: One of our major ethical standards in archives is to maintain the privacy of the people found in our collections. We do this not just because of our professional standards and applicable laws, but because it’s our sacred responsibility to do this. We need the community to understand that we will also hold the materials in our collections as securely as we possibly can.

  • MC: Is there anything else readers should know about privacy and copyright with regards to archives and records that hasn’t already been discussed?

JK: Know that archivist keep hold all materials for the public and we will protect them to the best of our ability. 

Now You Know invites faculty and staff to share their expertise on various topics. Any views or opinions expressed do not represent Clayton State University.

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