Removing All Restrictions:
Cornell’s New Policy on
of Public Domain
Peter Hirtle, Senior Policy Advisor, Cornell University Library,
with Tricia Donovan, Administrative Assistant, ARL
What prompted you to think about alternatives
to Cornell’s text and image use guidelines?
Two recent events—concern over the commercial use of images from the Core
Historical Literature of Agriculture collection and our decision to add thousands
of public domain scans to the Internet Archive—raised the issue of what
limitations, if any, Cornell wished to place on scans of its public domain books.
What were Cornell’s previous practices regarding
the use of digital scans of public domain materials?
Our previous practice was to try to limit some uses. Cornell has made a
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OCTOBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
Restrictions on the use of public domain work, sometimes labeled “copyfraud,” are generating increasing criticism
from the scholarly community. With significant collections of public domain materials in their collections, research
libraries are faced with the question of what restrictions, if any, to place on those who seek to scan or otherwise
reproduce these resources with the intention of publication.
Cornell University Library has responded by adopting new permissions guidelines that open access by no
longer requiring users to seek permission to publish public domain items duplicated from its collections. Users
planning to scan and publish public domain material are still expected to determine that works are in the public
domain where they live (since public domain determinations can vary internationally). Users must also respect non-
copyright rights, such as the rights of privacy, publicity, and trademark. The Library will continue to charge service
fees associated with the reproduction of analog material or the provision of versions of files different than what is
freely available on the Web. The new guidelines are found at http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/guidelines.html.
Below is an interview with Peter Hirtle, Cornell University Library’s Senior Policy Advisor, who gives some
insight into Cornell’s decision to change their “text and image use” permissions guidelines.