Q. Archives and Special Collections copyright information


Q. Copyright information relating to Archives & Special Collections


Collections held by Archives & Special Collections may be subject to copyright which does not apply to resources held elsewhere across Libraries & Collections.  The following FAQs are intended to flag specific issues and offer advice and guidance.

Where can I find copyright information for Archives & Special Collections material?

Copyright information for Archives can be found in the Archives catalogues.  Not all copyright information is made publicly available because it contains personal data and not all copyright is known - but staff will provide advice and guidance on a case-by-case basis.

Copyright information for Special Collections material is generally more straightforward. Printed works are copyright protected for 70 years after the author’s death. Please see more information here on the UK government site detailing how works are protected by copyright

Why is copyright different for different Archives collections or individual items?

Both copyright and access rights are established when collections are acquired.  They are determined by the means of acquisition and depend on whether collections are purchased by, loaned or gifted to the university.  The rights should be noted in Depositor Agreements - or similar documents - but these do not always exist where collections were acquired informally or the original creators or owners of a collection are unknown.    

How is copyright different for Archives & Special Collections material?

Much of the material held by Archives - and some of the material held by Special Collections - is unpublished and bound by the 2039 rule.  Under the 2039 rule, any literary, dramatic or musical work created by an unknown author or by an author who died before 1969 and was not published before 1 August 1989, is protected by copyright until 31 December 2039 - unless the unknown author clearly died more than 70 years ago.  The 2039 rule was established by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to prevent perpetual copyright in unpublished works and protects them for 50 years from 1 August 1989 when the Act came into force, but no longer.

It might be that some of the material you wish to use is bound by this 2039 rule but staff will be able to advise. 

Whose responsibility is it to clear copyright before reusing or reproducing Archives material?

It is not the responsibility of the Archives to clear copyright on your behalf.  Staff will advise and provide as much information as they can to ensure that you are not infringing copyright - but it is the user’s responsibility to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to identify rights holders and gain permission before reusing or reproducing material.

For further information on how to obtain and reuse material from Archives & Special Collections, please see the following additional FAQs:  

Q. Can I reproduce materials from the Archives?


Q. How do I order copies of materials from the Archives?


Q. How do I order copies of materials from Special Collections?


Q. Consulting and copying Special Collections material

Link to tab ‘Using the Collections’

Any further questions, please do email us at archives@kcl.ac.uk or specialcollections@kcl.ac.uk

And for further information, please see our homepages here

King's College London Archives

Foyle Special Collections Library

  • Last Updated Jun 03, 2020
  • Views 72
  • Answered By Adam Ray

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