Journalist Mary-Ann Astle on Twitter (@mary_annastle)

Visitors to a number of UK libraries and museums—including institutions as large as the National Library of Scotland—were disappointed this week, met with empty display cases or blank pieces of paper where historical cultural artifacts should be. It’s all part of the “Free Our History” protest organized by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), a response to copyright laws that make it difficult to display unpublished works legally.
“At the moment the duration of copyright in certain unpublished works is to the end of 2039, regardless of how old the work is,” according to CILIP’s change.org petition. “No other country in Europe has such restrictive provisions. European institutions are able to use such important historical material freely and lawfully, but in the UK we cannot.” The copyright duration CILIP is referring to applies to unpublished works created before 1989 according to the BBC. CILIP’s says an example might be a young girl’s note to her soldier father during WWI.
The protest comes days after the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) launched a new copyright licensing scheme aimed at fixing issues around “orphan works,” or creative works where the rights holder can’t be identified or traced. With that change, the government’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) can grant licenses so orphan works can be “reproduced on websites, in books, and on TV without breaking the law, while protecting the rights of owners so they can be remunerated if they come forward.” (CILIP estimates up to 50 percent of archival records in the UK are “orphan works,” and the BBC says 91 million such items exist in country.)
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