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Copyright and Intellectual Property

Intellectual property refers to any fixed tangible created piece made by a human, (such as literary works, artistic works, inventions, designs, symbols, names, images, computer code, etc.) Copyright is a set of exclusive rights awarded to a copyright holder or owner for an original and creative work of authorship in a fixed tangible piece. The Alliance has compiled this set of copyright and intellectual property resources from amongst its own offerings as well as those throughout the nonprofit and museum sector.

Alliance Resources

Digital Copyright and Privacy

The Alliance provides a handout from the 2014 Annual Meeting, which outlined copyright and privacy issues in museums, and provided guidelines for mitigating legal risk and being responsible digital citizens. Presenters for this session were: Nathan Kerr, Intellectual Property Coordinator, Oakland Museum of California; Anne Young, Manager of Rights and Reproductions, Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Rights & Reproductions: The Handbook for Cultural Institutions (Second Edition)

The Rights & Reproductions from AAM Press is available at Rowman and Littlefield. Building upon the guidelines, standards, and best practices outlined in the first edition, the Handbook further investigates current trends in rights and reproductions practices, notably expanding the discussion of fair use guidelines and codes, Creative Commons and, open access, social media applications, and the overall process of conducting rights clearances and obtaining permissions for the growing list of possible uses of a cultural institution’s IP.

Sample Documents

Tier 3 museum members can access a number of sample copyright and reproduction policies from other museums.

Other Resources

Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts

The College Art Association released its Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts. The practices are based on a consensus of professionals in the visual arts who use copyrighted images, texts, and other materials and covers museum uses, and online access to archival and special collections (among other items).


The U.S. Copyright Office offers information on copyright basics, U.S. and international copyright law, registration procedures, and licensing. It also has a series of circulars and fact sheets on specific topics, such as works-made-for-hire, investigating the copyright status of a work, and copyright registration for online work.

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States

Cornell University’s Copyright Information Center provides a copyright duration chart for unpublished works and works published in and outside the U.S. Footnote 1 has links to alternative copyright charts.

Rights Statements

Europeana and the Digital Public Library of America provide which includes 11 different rights statements that can be used by cultural heritage institutions to communicate the copyright and re-use status of digital objects to the public.

Survey on Museums and Copyright 

The Network of European Museum Organizations’ 2015 report covers how European states are rethinking copyright.

Three-Dimensional Reproductions

The National Park Service’s (NPS) Museum Handbook (PDF) discusses reproduction of museum collections for exhibition, sale, research, or education. A 40-page chapter discusses 3-dimensional reproductions. It includes a glossary and several sample agreements for making reproductions.

Two-Dimensional Reproductions

The National Park Service’s (NPS) Museum Handbook (PDF) discusses the reproduction of museum collections for exhibition, sale, research, or education. An 86-page chapter focuses on two-dimensional reproductions. It includes a comparison of the advantages and of disadvantages of different two-dimensional formats, a cost recovery chart for use in establishing a fee structure, and a few sample agreements.

WIPO Guide on Managing Intellectual Property for Museums

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shares the WIPO Guide on Managing Intellectual Property for Museums. The first part of the guide outlines how museums can identify intellectual property and understand rights and related issues. The second part reviews business models that center on the Internet and digital technologies and suggests ways to implement revenue-generating strategies.

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