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Posted on Friday February 6, 2015

Updated on Monday March 25, 2024

How to select an accurate rights statement

This page offers information on how to identify the most accurate and adequate rights statement for the data you share with Europeana. This is based on the list of available rights statements that Europeana works with as part of its Licensing Framework. This page is the third of three blocks of training, preceded by the page Training on the available rights statements used by Europeana which we encourage you to look at before continuing to read this page.

Learning Goals

By reading through this page and testing your knowledge through the quizzes linked below, you will:

  • Understand the importance of choosing rights statements accurately

  • Understand the negative consequences of inaccurately choosing a rights statement

  • Be able to accurately select a rights statement

  • Understand why claiming rights on digital reproductions is discouraged

  • Understand the relation between a rights statement and the object vs. digital reproduction

Take the quizzes after reading through the relevant information. The answers are treated anonymously.

Section 1 - Why are accurate rights statements important?

We believe that everyone should have access to cultural heritage online. And for users to know how to use digital objects, providing clear and simple rights information is essential. That is why digital objects submitted to Europeana must include a rights statement from one of the 14 options that Europeana works with. 

Just using rights statements is not sufficient to facilitate reuse: the choice of rights statement has to accurately reflect the copyright status of the object, as well as other considerations. Europeana data providers have an obligation to make ‘best efforts’ to provide Europeana with correct rights information, as described in the Data Exchange Agreement.

For example:

  • suggesting that an object is in copyright by using a Creative Commons Licence, if in reality it isn’t, takes away valuable opportunities to legitimate uses of cultural heritage (and constitutes copyfraud).
  • On the other hand, suggesting that an object is in the public domain by using the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark if it is in copyright is misleading towards the user (and creates a legal risk). The same applies to using a Creative Commons Licence or CC0 on an item without having permission from the rightsholder.

Section 2 - Tips to select an accurate rights statement

Here are a few tips that should help you make an accurate choice of rights statements.

  • Evaluate the copyright status of the physical object. By determining whether an item is in copyright or in the public domain, you will already be able to narrow down your choices of rights statements. Use a Creative Commons Licence, CC0 or one of the In Copyright rights statements if the item is in copyright. Use the Public Domain Mark or an Out of Copyright Rights Statement if the work is in the public domain.
  • By using a Creative Commons Licence or CC0, you are giving people permission to use the material. A cultural heritage institution should not use this unless they have cleared all the rights and have the agreement from the rightsholder. 

  • Consider whether any other legal or contractual conditions apply. By determining that, you will know if you need to apply the No Copyright - Other Known Legal Restrictions Right Statement, or the No copyright - Non commercial Use Only Rights Statement. For instance, was the object digitised through a partnership with a private actor and does the agreement forbid commercial reuse?

The approach for making such decisions will change from one organisation to the next, so within the accurate choices that you have, also remember to consider your organisation's policy for sharing content, and whether there is a willingness to open up, which we encourage. 

The flowchart below can guide you through making an accurate and adequate choice of rights statements (access it in high resolution here). You will also find more information on how to accurately select a rights statement in this Task Force report.

Rights labelling flow chart
Rights labelling flow chart
Europeana Copyright Community Steering Group
The Netherlands
Rights labelling flow chart

Section 3 - No rights on digital reproductions

Many institutions distinguish between rights to the content  and rights to the digital object (see the respective definitions on this page). However, when you share data with Europeana, we encourage you to treat them as one to make it easy for users to assess if they can use what they see. This means choosing one rights statement that applies to both the content and the digital object. We describe how this can be done below.

The simplest way to ensure that the rights information of the ‘physical’ object and the digital object coincide so is by not claiming additional rights that may result from the digitisation of content. This is something that we particularly encourage you to do in works that are in the public domain, as described in our Public Domain Charter

In any case, rights on the reproduction of a public domain work can only  be legally claimed in a few circumstances, as described in this post

If you still differentiate between two layers, for instance because a photographer digitised sculptures in a way that makes their photographs original, here is what you should consider to choose a rights statement that accurately reflects both the content and the digital object: 

  • If the content is protected by copyright, but the digital reproduction is not, the rights statement should communicate the in copyright status (through a Creative Commons License, or an In Copyright Rights Statement).

  • If the content is not protected by copyright, but the digital reproduction is (and you wish to claim the rights), the rights statement should communicate the in copyright status (through a Creative Commons License, or an In Copyright Rights Statement).

  • If neither the content nor the digital reproduction are protected by copyright, the rights statement should communicate the out of copyright status (through the Public Domain Mark or an Out of Copyright Rights Statement).

If you wish to know more about how to technically submit a rights statement to Europeana, you can read about it on this page.