You’ve got the Rights stuff

This week, instead of looking at one particular item in DPLA, I’d like to talk about copyright for a bit. Copyright law can be pretty confusing and overwhelming, but since most of us aren’t lawyers, we don’t have to get very far into it to glean a few bits of understanding and practices for it to be helpful.

One of the greatest things about DPLA is that their site contains items that are in copyright and items that are not. This falls in line with the library world’s longstanding commitment to providing access to materials to anyone who wants to use it. And sometimes, those items still under copyright can be accessed and studied and shared for educational purposes for free, but you can’t use them in a way that would harm the income of the person (or company) who holds the copyright to the item. And sometimes, even if they *are* under copyright, you can still reuse them for other purposes that aren’t so clear cut.

It’s enough to make you not care and just do whatever you want with whatever you find on the internet! And while I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, that’s probably not a good idea.

The folks at DPLA and Europeana recognized that ascertaining what you can (legally) do with things you find on the internet can be confusing, so they worked together, along with some other fine folks, to create a project that lives at This project has distilled just about all copyright statement options in both Europe and the United States, and then some, into 12 statements, in three categories. The copyright statements are not tied to a certain library or website or collection, so they are universal and can be applied to identify the copyright status of all sorts of cultural heritage materials.

What does this mean for you, when you are using DPLA? It means you will start to see more and more items with one of these three icons on its info page, and you might see the labels on other websites, too!

And what does this look like for you, when you are using DPLA? Well, when you are using the internet for what it does best, looking for pictures of cats, and you find an item you like and click on it to get more details, you’ll see something like this:

Courtesy Cleveland Public Library

You can see right below the thumbnail, clear as day, that this item is not in copyright in the United States. If you are wondering what that means, just scroll down a bit and BOOM:

A detailed statement with a link to back you up, if needed.

Now, this project came about a few years after DPLA started putting items online, so not everything on the site has one of these standardized statements. Any time you have a question about the use of an item you find on DPLA, you can always contact the institution who provided it for more info.

But! Everything you find from the Ohio Digital Network will have these copyright status labels – all the organizations in Ohio who have contributed to DPLA have worked hard to identify and label their collections. We hope this helps you enjoy and use the items in DPLA to their fullest potential.