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Copyright: Copyright & Archives

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“The dictionary is the only book that's not required to reference anybody”

Mwanandeke Kindembo 

Copying archival material

Personal research use

Legislation allows that copies of archival material can be made to support access to archives for personal research use.

To protect against potential copyright infringements, most archives services require you to complete a copyright declaration form [example from Hull History Centre] if a) they provide you with copies or b) you take photographs of originals yourself.

Note that you may only take photographs yourself in an archives reading room if you have been given permission to do so by the reading room supervisors, so always check that this is permitted before using a camera or phone.


Copying for publication is only legal with the express permission of the copyright holder, or if the item is no longer within copyright.

Publication is deemed to have taken place if images of an original, or complete transcript of a text are used for the following purposes:

  • printed published works for commercial gain
  • online and physical exhibitions
  • posts on any social media platforms
  • blogs, talks and videos hosted on any online platform

Tracing Copyright of archival material

Ascertaining copyright ownership of archives can often be difficult and lengthy, so leave yourself plenty of time for rights clearance.

An example: one small collection consisting of correspondence between one individual and 10 acquaintances involves 11 authors, and therefore potentially up to 11 copyright holders.

Archives services responsible for collections will usually hold data relating to the deposit and ownership of material. Where copyright ownership is known, this is often indicated in a catalogue of the material made available by archives services. It can, therefore, be a useful first step to check the catalogue. For an example from Hull History Centre see the catalogue entry for the Papers of Philip Larkin under the section 'Copyright'.

Where copyright ownership is unknown, or uncertain, archives services may still be able to advise you. The best course of action is therefore to make contact with the service responsible for the material in question.

Further guidance: The National Archives of the UK have produced a guidance document outlining archival copyright issues, which you might find helpful.

Tim Padfield's book on copyright, Copyright for archivists and records managers, provides a detailed exploration of the issues surrounding archives and copyright.

Acknowledging Copyright permission

Check with the Copyright owner

There is no standard format for citation of copyright permission when using archives. If you have obtained permission to use archival material, it is a good idea to ask the copyright owner how they would like this permission to be cited.

Material held at Hull History Centre

If you wish to reproduce images of material held at Hull History Centre for publication, please contact Hull University Archives in the first instance.

Hull University Archives can help you to trace copyright ownership for collections held at Hull History Centre.

In some instances, Hull University Archives has authority to grant copyright permission. If you have contacted us and we have informed you that this is the case, please use the following attributions when citing reproduction of original material:

  • For anything with a reference beginning 'U' - '[Reference Number] used with permission of Hull University Archives at Hull History Centre'
  • For anything with a reference beginning 'C' or 'L' - '[Reference Number] used with permission of Hull City Archives and Local Studies Library at Hull History Centre'