Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage

Aug 2017 | 240pp

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Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage

Gill Hamilton and Fred Saunderson

This practical and explanatory guide for library and cultural heritage professionals introduces and explains the use of open licences for content, data and metadata in libraries and other cultural heritage organisations. Using rich background information, international case studies and examples of best practice, this book outlines how and why open licences should and can be used with the sector’s content, data and metadata.                                       

Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage digs into the concept of ‘open’ in relation to intellectual property, providing context through the development of different fields, including open education, open source, open data, and open government. It explores the organisational benefits of open licensing and the open movement, including the importance of content discoverability, arguments for wider collections impact and access, the practical benefits of simplicity and scalability, and more ethical and principled arguments related to protection of public content and the public domain.

Content covered includes:

  • an accessible introduction to relevant concepts, themes, and names, including ‘Creative Commons’, ‘attribution’, model licences, and licence versions
  • distinctions between content that has been openly licensed and content that is in the public domain and why professionals in the sector should be aware of these differences
  • an exploration of the organisational benefits of open licensing and the open movement
  • the benefits and risks associated with open licensing
  • a range of practical case studies from organisations including Newcastle Libraries, the University of Edinburgh, Statens Museum for Kunst (the National Gallery of Denmark), and the British Library.

This book will be useful reading for staff and policy makers across the gallery, library, archive and museum (GLAM) sector, who need a clear understanding of the open licensing environment, opportunities, risks and approaches to implementation. This includes library and information professionals, library and information services (LIS) professionals working specifically in the digital field (including digital curation, digitisation, digital production, resource discovery developers). It will also be of use to students of LIS Science, digital curation, digital humanities, archives and records management and museum studies.

List of figures and tables


About the authors

1. Introduction

2. The Open Movement: its history and development

3. Copyright and licensing: a background

4. Open licensing: the logical option for cultural heritage

Case studies introduction

5. Small steps, big impact: how SMK became SMK Open

6. Open metadata licensing: the British Library experience

7. Open policy and collaboration with Wikimedia at the National Library of Wales

8. Newcastle Libraries

9. Drivers for open: the development of open licensing at the National Library of Scotland

10. Wellcome Library

11. Development of an OER policy and open approaches to mitigate risk at University of Edinburgh

12. How to implement open licensing at your organisation

13. Using and re-use openly licensed resources

14. Conclusion


'In their excellent guide Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage, Gill Hamilton and Fred Saunderson explain, advocate, and show how to implement open intellectual property (‘IP’) licensing within the heritage sector. Their use of enlightening case studies, authored by other experts in the sector, is especially impactful. These real-life stories—perhaps the core of the book—help explain why it is not always possible to be as open as we might like, why openness takes time and resource, and how risk needs to be mitigated. Nevertheless, Hamilton’s and Saunderson’s personable, persuasive, and enthusiastic tone extends unswayed to the final, practical chapters.'
- Bernard Horrocks, Tate Gallery, London, Archives and Records

'I recommend Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage to cultural institutions who are looking for a way to make their digital content accessible to a broader audience, thus bringing them not only the visibility that comes with openness, but also to initiate them as new stakeholders that support such endeavors.'
- Anastasia Weigle, Maine Archives and Museums Quarterly

'It often happens that collections of edited chapters lack coherence and it is difficult to understand the logic of compilation, selection of topics and structuring of a book. Luckily, this book on open licensing for memory institutions does not belong to this category. On the contrary, the editors have clearly divided the text into two logical parts: explaining more general topics of the emergence and development of the open movement, copyright and open licensing in the first one; and presenting case studies in the second. Two final chapters pull together the experiences from the case studies and offer some practical advice on re-using widely available open resources. It is useful to spread the idea of open licensing and shows that it is not only logically applies to cultural heritage, but is implemented in various ways. Most of the cases demonstrate its success, especially, in increased use and re-use of digitized cultural materials, which has always been a problem for many cultural memory institutions.'
- Elena Maceviciute, Swedish School of Library and Information Science, University of Borâs, Information Research

'Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage is as impressively informative as it is exceptionally well written, organized and presented. Unreservedly recommended as an essential, exceptional, indispensable, core addition to community, governmental, and academic Library Science collections, Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage is a necessary and invaluable instructional reference.'
- Micah Andrew, MBR Bookwatch

'This book will be of value to any institutions considering making their collections available digitally. The background and context information is largely clearly relevant, concise and sufficient. The book is very readable throughout. It will also be suitable for students studying courses in library and moveable cultural heritage management. Indeed I have recommended the book to my own students.'
- Adrienne Muir, Robert Gordon University, Journal of Cultural Heritage‚Äč

'...a passionate call to arms for open licensing. This book is both accessible and comprehensive. It is highly recommended as essential reading for anybody working in the GLAM sector who is new to these issues or whose institutions are considering releasing and sharing their content more openly.'
- Louise Ashton, British Library, Information Professional


Gill Hamilton is Digital Access Manager at the National Library of Scotland where she leads on access to the Library’s extensive digital collections, and oversees its resource discovery and library management systems.

Fred Saunderson is the National Library of Scotland’s Intellectual Property Specialist where he has responsibility for providing copyright and intellectual property advice and guidance, as well as coordinating licensing and re-use procedures. 


With case studies from Aude Charillon, Jason Evans, Christy Henshaw, Melissa Highton, Merete Sanderhoff, Dafydd Tudur and Neil Wilson.

1. Introduction

This introductory chapter provides an overview of the book which aims to provide the insight, knowledge and confidence necessary to implement an open licensing approach within a gallery, library, archive or museum.

2. The Open Movement: its history and development

In Chapter 2 the authors take a historical perspective and explain how a 1950s US antitrust action, a persistent American Congressman, and a frustrated young software engineer separately laid the groundwork for the open movement. The chapter outlines how today’s world of the internet, smart devices and the digital economy is underpinned by their actions, and how they unwittingly influenced others, leading to the development of open data, open education, open knowledge, open source, open access, open government and open licensing.

3. Copyright and licensing: a background

Chapter 3 looks at the intellectual property environment and outlines the role of copyright and other intellectual property rights, such as patents and trademarks. The authors describe the main intellectual property rights in the UK and Europe and discuss copyright licensing in detail. They go on to explain key licensing terminology and provide a background to the most popular open licences, the suite of Creative Commons licences.

4. Open licensing: the logical option for cultural heritage

In Chapter 4 the authors advance the case for the use of open licences in cultural heritage. They describe the benefits of an open approach – its impact, reach and onward creativity – and tackle head on the potential risks that are likely to be perceived from adopting an open approach, including the loss of income, visitors and position. This chapter explains how these perceived risks can be avoided or mitigated, and makes the case that the benefits of an open approach outweigh the risks.

Chapters 5 to 11: Case Studies

At the centre of this book is a series of seven case studies from the Statens Museum for Kunst (the National Gallery of Denmark), the British Library, the National Library of Wales, Newcastle Libraries, the National Library of Scotland, the Wellcome Library and the University of Edinburgh. In these studies, contributors describe the various ways in which their organisations have used and benefited from open licensing, in areas including digitisation, metadata sharing, social collaboration and open education. These case studies provide tangible and helpful examples of how the principles and lessons set out in this book can be, and have been, realised in practice.

12. How to implement open licensing

The penultimate chapter provides detailed, step by step guidance on how to make the case for and then implement open licences in cultural organisations. It addresses implementation from a policy perspective and from a procedural and technical perspective.

13. Using and re-use openly licensed resources

The final chapter explains how to use and reuse openly licensed material, and how to distribute such resources widely to realise benefit. The chapter also provides some techniques for finding, sourcing and using openly licensed content.

14. Conclusion

The book concludes with a summary of the information provided in the preceeding chapters and a final word of advice.

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