Copyright and Community-Driven Archives

When it comes to protecting intellectual property that is part of your or your community’s history, it helps to understand what legal rights apply to your materials. 

Community-based archives are a pathway for groups of people to exercise self-determination over the collection and interpretation of their histories. Historically marginalized communities draw on community-archival methods to preserve and share stories that are often missing from institutional archives and dominant historical narratives.

It is especially important to many of our partner history keepers through our Community-Driven Archives initiative to know what rights they and their community collaborators have over their stories and historical records. This requires an understanding of copyright and how it works.

What is copyright?

According to Anne Gilliland, Scholarly Communications Officer with UNC Libraries, copyright is your legal right to determine the permitted uses of your tangible expressions of creative work. What does that mean and what kinds of things amount to “tangible expressions of creative work”?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it does give you a sense of what kinds of things are legally under copyright:

    • Musical compositions
    • Films
    • Artwork/media
    • Oral histories
    • Photographs

One big takeaway is that copyright does not cover non-recorded stories and ideas.

Many of our collaborators are rightfully concerned about their control over future uses of their shared stories and materials. Many have heard about or know of an example of someone’s story making its way to Hollywood or on the radio or even featured on a city-sponsored project without the knowledge of that person or their descendants.

While acknowledging on one hand the gaps, omissions, and injustices of U.S. laws, our goal as a Community-Driven Archives Team is to help history keepers get familiar with a few best practices for making use of the legal protections that are available. We also want to help groups and institutions who work with oral histories and other people’s historical materials take the proper steps before making use of someone’s story or creative work.

Copyright Best Practices

Best Practice #1: Assume that every creative work is under copyright until you know that it is not.

the Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill surrounded by Spring flowers
An example of an image in the public domain featuring UNC-Chapel Hill. Credit: Jack a lanier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most creative works are automatically under copyright unless the copyright holder (the creator or their designated heirs) explicitly gives away their copyright or the record goes into the public domain, which usually takes about a century.

Just because you found it online does not mean that you are free to share it. Most online materials are under copyright.

Look for ways to seek permission to share or reuse the item in question. Sometimes, a simple web search will clue you in on permission requirements; other times, you may need to take the time to track down heirs and make phone calls to descendants for consent. If you are working with an institutional archive, staff members can help you track down creators for permission. If you cannot find someone to provide consent, then you can investigate fair use, which is a framework to help you assess whether you can fairly justify the use of copyrighted materials without the permission of the creator or someone authorized to provide consent.

The item may also be free to use because it is in the public domain. This applies to many items, including those created by the federal government and those that date back to the early 20th century or earlier. To learn what groups of historical and cultural materials have passed into the public domain, you can check out this chart updated each year by Cornell University.

A black and white image of four white male-presenting people in front of the Old Well at UNC
This 19th-century photograph of the Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill is another example of an image in the public domain, this time because it is over a century old. From the North Carolina Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC-Chapel Hill

Best Practice #2: For oral histories, interviewers should always ask their interviewees for their consent and their terms of reuse.

According to our lawyer-in-residence, Anne Gilliland, oral histories are considered a joint creation between the interviewer and the interviewee.

For interviewers:

Bernetiae leans over a group of seated African American women to assist them during a training
CDA Team member Bernetiae Reed leads an oral history training in San Antonio, TX, November 2017. Courtesy UNC CDAT

If you are a community archivist wanting to preserve and/or share oral histories you have collected, you should create a consent form where your interviewee gives you permission to record their story. This form should outline the allowed uses for the recorded interview. Consent forms also ask about additional restrictions, if any, that interviewees require for the sharing of their interview. If it applies, interviewees should also be informed about the institutional repository (i.e. archive, library, museum, etc.) to which their materials will be donated.

A license is a way of communicating the terms for allowed uses of creative works (such uses include: display, distribution, performance, reproduction, derivative works, and audio transmission). For example, a license can state that someone’s interview should be used only for educational and/or nonprofit purposes, or only if the original format is not altered (i.e. no derivative works can be adapted from the interview). Creative Commons licenses are popular and give creators standardized language for their terms of reuse.

For interviewees:

Unless the form you sign says so explicitly, signing a consent form does not mean that you are giving away your copyright. Creators maintain their copyright for at least the duration of their lifetime, unless they formally agree to end their copyright. If you are being interviewed, it is important that you feel comfortable with the terms of the interview. Take the time to read through the consent form to make sure you agree with the license laid out there. Read the section above for more information about creating a license.

Best Practice #3: Be upfront about your mission and goals with your audience and your collaborators.

Why are you making your works or materials available to members of the public? Make it clear to potential audiences. For example, if you want to share your creative works with public audiences for educational purposes, that tells you something about your mission. Perhaps your mission is to inspire people in Chapel Hill, NC to take action for environmental justice through sharing nature photographs from the 1970s and 80s with web users. Write up that mission and share it on your website. If you are concerned that people might use your photographs for purposes outside the scope of your mission, make sure your license for reuse is somewhere prominent and easy to find on your site.

If you are asking someone to sign a consent form that would allow you to share their digitized image, oral history, or creative work with public audiences, be upfront with them about the mission and goals of your project. This helps build trust. If your collaborator likes your project and appreciates your intended use of their materials, they will be less likely to require additional restrictions be placed on the material, which will make it easier for you and others to use and share it over time. Again, it is important to make sure you and your collaborator agree on the terms of use for their materials, and that the related license is easily accessible with the terms of use clearly presented to public audiences.

Best Practice #4: For sensitive materials, consider alternative ways of sharing them with selected audiences.

If you are concerned with how members of the public will share or use your materials, think about limiting your terms of use.

For digitized items (physical papers or photographs that are scanned and made into a digital file), consider creating a private space online to share them only with select members of your community. Or share them widely but upload a version of the file that is stamped with a watermark to prevent unintended uses. Signing a consent form to share your digitized materials with any history keeper or institutional partner does not mean you are giving away your copyright.

If you are sending items to a repository (e.g. institutional archive, library, museum, etc.), make sure you are also clear with that institution on your terms of use. Review all forms they ask you to sign to ensure that you retain your copyright and ask that your preferred license be included (a.k.a. your terms of use). Let the institution know if you intend for your materials to be a loan or a permanent gift. If it is a loan, indicate when and under which conditions materials should be returned to their owner.

If you are worried about any unintended uses of digitized materials shared with a repository, consider asking your institutional partner to keep your materials off the internet or to share them selectively, as outlined above.

Additional Resources

For more about community-based archives and considerations for project partnership on the Southern Sources blog:

What’s In an Archive? Deciding Where Your Historical Materials Will Live

The Community-Driven Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter: @SoHistColl_1930 #CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

Storytelling through Community-Driven Archives

Our unique approach to archival workflows is one thing that sets community-driven archives approaches apart from mainstream archival methods. Traditionally, archivists stick to access and preservation and leave interpretation and storytelling to the researchers. But what happens when we listen to what our audiences want? We find ways to help them tell meaningful stories about their communities’ history.

Our Core Audiences and Understanding What Matters to Them

Within our community-driven archives (CDA) project, audience means a lot to us. This has been true since the beginning of our grant project, and it is getting clearer as we head towards wrapping it up and sharing what we have learned.

Our project strives to support and amplify historical projects by and for communities underrepresented in institutional archives. Our priority audience is community-based archive projects: groups of people who are interested in creating an archival project documenting their own community. We also work with individual history keepers: people, like family genealogists and community organizers, wanting to document and share histories currently missing from dominant archives and narratives due to legacies of injustice.

While brainstorming for what will go on our new project website (coming soon), our team looked at all the tools and resources that we have created with our project partners since the start of the grant. We asked ourselves, what kinds of resources are most useful to our core audiences?

Title page of Storytelling webinar with UNC logo
Learn about documentary storytelling in this CDA webinar with Theo Moore of Hiztorical Vision Productions.

We noticed that one of the most common resource requests that we receive from our community collaborators is for more tools about storytelling. In response, we have created new resources on topics like “the art of storytelling” and “how to create an exhibition.”

But what do we mean by storytelling and why should archives professionals care?

Making a Case for Storytelling in Community Archives Projects

Archives have historically prioritized the access and preservation of historical records over the interpretation of history, leaving the latter to researchers. For community archives projects, we believe it must be different.

Community archives projects address gaps in the dominant historical record and complicate mainstream historical narratives. Communities want their stories told on their own terms. Through building an archive, the collecting of history supports the (re)telling of it.

In many cases, the stories uncovered through community-based collections are not otherwise known. Due to legacies of racism, settler colonialism, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression, histories by and for Black, Indigenous, people of color, women, and LGBTIQ people have been hidden or silenced. As a result, beyond building their collection, many history keepers also want to broadcast the stories they’ve researched and curated through their archive. Many history keepers want to control how their community’s stories get told, rightfully questioning outside researchers’ and institutions’ motivations.

a museum exhibit with a backdrop of a church featuring men's and women's clothing on two mannequins near a table of historical artifacts
One section of the EKAAMP, one of our pilot partners, exhibition on the Eastern KY Social Club, 2018.

Our collaborators and partners share their communities’ stories through a variety of methods: exhibitions, public programs, websites, social media and blog posts, documentaries, short videos, and more.
We believe that archival professionals like ourselves working with community archives projects must consider the importance of storytelling. Through community collaboration, we have the opportunity to support both the safeguarding and sharing of stories.

Ideas for Archival Institutions

Since the beginning of our community-driven archives project, our work has extended to train and resource history keepers to share stories they uncover through developing a collection.

Oral histories easily lend themselves to exhibitions and other vehicles for sharing stories with visitors. Members of our team have trained local history keepers to conduct oral histories as a path to preserving memories. From there, we have worked with our community partners to incorporate oral history clips and collections materials into physical and digital exhibitions and short documentary videos that narrate important stories. One of our pilot partners, the Appalachian Student Health Coalition, created a web-based storytelling project that draws on video interviews and data visualizations to share its members’ contributions to rural healthcare in Appalachia.

Through our Archival Seedlings program, we help our ten resident Seedlings develop an archival collection and share their historical project with chosen audiences. For some Seedlings, the websites, videos, blog posts, and exhibits they create to highlight their collection are the only places their audiences can find those histories. While some Seedlings are working with traditional institutions and repositories to preserve and share their finished projects, others are choosing to keep their collections with history keepers in their own communities and to take on project promotion and outreach themselves.

A Black person seated in from of a sign in the background reading "Swift Memorial Jr. College Reunion"
Stella Gudger, Founder of the Swift Museum in Rogerville, TN, from Archival Seedling William Isom II’s interview with her.

One Seedlings participant, William Isom II, is compiling a collection of video interviews with alumni from the historically Black Swift Memorial Institute in Rogersville, TN into a video that will be on view in the museum located on Swift’s historic campus. In addition, one of our pilot partners, the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP) has recently launched an exhibition sharing the oral histories and archival materials it collected through community-based research. These are great examples of how a collection can be “put to work” to share stories.

Storytelling Resources

Storytelling resources are available along with other related tools and trainings on our website.

For more about community-based archives on the Southern Sources blog:

What’s in an Archive? Deciding Where Your Historical Materials Will Live

The Community-Driven Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930 #CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

On the Road: The Community Driven Archives Team travels to Shaw, Mississippi, February 2019 

Chaitra Powell and I spent the last weekend of February traveling to Shaw, MS to conduct an Archivist in a Backpack Training and archival techniques workshop. We collaborated with a group working to preserve and share the history of the town of Shaw, specifically the civil rights case Hawkins vs. Town of Shaw. We met the group at the Delta Hands for Hope, pictured below, which runs programs for students and community members, but is also the base of operations for the Hawkins Project.  

 The power behind this community work is the team of Dr. Timla Washington and Jenna WelchTimla, pictured below second from the right, is currently the Community Development Coordinator in the office of Congressman Bennie G. Thompson.  

Jenna, pictured below, is the artistic director and co-creator of the company StoryWorks, which combines investigative journalism with documentary theatre.  

These dynamic women have spearheaded an enormous project that combines archival materials, art and theatre, public health policy, and a myriad of other areas to tell the story of Shaw. Their work highlights the legacy of institutional racism incorporated into town infrastructure, and the failure of equitable legislature, despite a court victory for the African American population in Shaw.   

Before this trip, I had little knowledge of Hawkins v. Town of Shaw, and I certainly didn’t know that it was the first court case that used statistics to prove discrimination. Yet I quickly realized that Shaw, MS was in an area with numerous Civil Rights activities, for example, the site (pictured below) of a Freedom School, run by local farm workers and SNCC activists in 1965. 

We flew into Jackson which is about a 2 hour drive to Shaw, so we spent a little bit of time exploring the city with Timla, Jenna, and Gloria Hawkins. While we didn’t make it to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, we did see the Medgar Evers home and observe an oral history interview with one of the lawyers on the Hawkins v. Town of Shaw case in 1967. Gloria Hawkins is one of the daughters of Andrew and Mary Lou Hawkins, even though she was a teenager during the case, she has a file with the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission Database.    

What I didn’t realize until that tour was that Mrs. Mary Lou Hawkins was shot and killed in 1972 by a police officer, or that the Hawkins’ home was firebombed twice after the case. In the 1979 fire, Andrew Hawkins Jr., 28, and two of Gloria’s daughters, ages 8 and 11, were murdered.  

Newspaper clipping from the McComb, MS “Enterprise-Journal” March 18, 1979 reporting the house fire and deaths. 

On Saturday we were a little concerned that the weather would affect attendance to the workshop as it had been heavily raining Friday night. It was surreal to stand in the streets of Shaw and see that all the work that the Hawkins case had accomplished could not combat the legacy and strength of discrimination. The Hawkins case had mandated more robust sewer, water, and street light infrastructure as well as paved roads for the African American part of town. That was in the 1960s and early 70s.  

Infrastructure quality remains so poor in 2019 that entire sections of the town are unable to get out of their houses because of the flooding. That body of water on the edge of the neighborhood, pictured above, is a frequent occurrence, as is the flooding of homes and streets  

However, those who came to the workshops were some of the most dedicated people I have ever met. One woman, Enda Earl Moore, is the last surviving member of the court-mandated bi-racial planning commission. Mrs. Moorepictured below sitting right, took part in an oral history training session that Chaitra facilitated as part of the larger Backpack training. In this activity, pairs of participants practiced interview questions and then the group gathered to talk about what went well, and what to improve. 

Chaitra also led an imaginative description activity where one person described their childhood room and their partner drew it. This opened conversations about the language and detail used in archival descriptive work, perspective, and how this leads to access of information.  

I led one section about born digital material and another on reading archival documents. We talked about consistent file names and using conventions to ensure that files are understandable by multiple parties, as well as raising awareness of LOCKSS, file migration, and format.  The second section I led was reading archival documents, which Timla had asked for specifically. I worked with colleagues in Wilson Library to create an easy to follow set of guidelines that presented questions to “ask the documents.” Participants looked at photos and the minute books and read the document, answering questions about format, audience, and purpose. All the activities provoked important conversations about access, preservation, and ownership of narrative and voice. 

 It was an exhausting schedule, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I was moved by the warm welcome, and by the first day I almost forgot that I had to fly back to NC. We were invited back immediately, and I was sad to leave this place. Shaw has a history full of turmoil, closed businesses and dilapidated homes dot the streets. But it’s impossible to walk away from this place and these people without feeling their infectious determination and wanting to stay and be a part of their work. The power of place is startling in this townThe materials and resources from the Community-Driven Archives are only a small portion of this overall project, but I’m so glad we get to be a part of this work.  

Contributed by Community Driven Archives Grant Research Assistant, Claire Du Laney 

Partnering with The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM)

The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM) is in the process of developing a vibrant and much-needed community memory 501(c)(3) devoted to African American history, culture, and experience in San Antonio. They say it best in their Mission Statement:

“The SAAACAM mission is to collect, maintain, disseminate and interpret a digital database of authentic community based African American history; encourage and promote interdisciplinary education of shared history at all levels; practice stewardship of the broadest range of resources; and produce creative and innovative programs to heighten public awareness and self esteem.”

SAAACAM volunteer and Dr. Karida Brown during an oral history training.

Just a month into our jobs in late 2017, the Southern Historical Collection’s Oral Historian and Documentarian Bernetiae Reed and I were on our way to San Antonio, along with our colleague and Mellon Community Liaison Dr. Karida Brown, to visit with SAAACAM.

So what is Chapel Hill doing in San Antonio? The SHC’s role at SAAACAM is to share and develop resources and tools that help SAAACAM succeed in its goal of becoming a self-sustaining, self-directed, empowered archive and museum. We want to share what we know and cheerlead as SAAACAM finds a path that makes sense for its own community. We do this through training and discussion modules, consultation and research assistance, a small technology budget that aims to get projects familiar with oral history and preservation work, and backup repository support when deemed useful by SAAACAM.

Continue reading “Partnering with The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM)”

So What’s a CDAT Anyway? Meet the Community-Driven Archives Team at the Southern Historical Collection

What are community-driven archives all about?

In October 2017, the Southern Historical Collection celebrated the complete staffing of our “Building A Model For All Users: Transforming Archive Collections Through Community-Driven Archives” Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant team. In recent months, we have launched the initial steps of supporting community-driven archives initiatives and programs through our Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT).  There are many models for community-driven archives; the upshot of ours is that we want to form meaningful, mutually supportive partnerships to build and preserve community archival collections. We provide communities with the tools and resources to safeguard and represent their own histories. And we want you to be able to CDAT, too!

This community-based approach extends to how we do our work as a team – working together proactively to tease out tricky issues and create accessible and approachable documentation. Our method for creating and publishing content such as presentations, handouts, media, peer-reviewed publications, social media content, and yes, even this blog, is all about collaborative peer-editing.

Our grant prioritizes collaboration, and owes much to the research of Michelle Caswell, Bergis Jules, and many others who have theorized and brought to life the idea of inclusive, representative, empowered archival practice. Community archives models and community-driven archival practice address the “symbolic annihilation” of historically marginalized groups in the historical record, and aim to create sustainable and accessible memory projects that address these archival absences.

Continue reading “So What’s a CDAT Anyway? Meet the Community-Driven Archives Team at the Southern Historical Collection”

Eatonville, Florida: A Vital History

Contributed by Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection

As part of the Collection’s ongoing work with the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance, I visited the historic town of Eatonville, Florida in December.  In recent days the town commemorated the legacy of one of its notable residents, as the Zora! Festival celebrated the life and work of writer Zora Neale Hurston.  Professor William Ferris delivered a keynote address there, and attendees had the opportunity to soak up some of the atmosphere and remarkable local culture of a town that has retained its distinctiveness through the years.

A 2008 New York Times article gives a sense of the town and its atmosphere; I had a chance to visit some of the places and people it mentions.  Stepping into Eatonville is transporting.  Against all expectation, with the suburbs of Orlando at its doorstep and the interstate visible from the town center, Eatonville has survived the fragmentation common to many small southern towns. If Eatonville retains a small-town atmosphere, it is also mindful of deep history.  Town residents told me of the sacrifices entailed in protecting those legacies; where they have succeeded, one said, is because the townspeople “have a backbone.” Eatonville is permeated with a sense of the importance of history as well as its fragility.

Mrs. Maye  St. Julien
Mrs. Maye St. Julien explains the significance of historic documents in the Eatonville Town Hall (est. 1887).

From the first, Mayor Bruce Mount and his staff were gracious hosts. Mrs. Maye St. Julien shared insights into town history and her life story was fascinating in its own right. The City Hall houses many artefacts and keeps the minutes of its meetings, dating back to the mid-twentieth century (many earlier records were lost to a fire). We were warmly received by Ms. Hortense Jones of St. Lawrence A.M.E., who opened the chapel, its walls brightened by the J. Andre Smith murals that incorporate scenes from local life. The paintings offer a kind of primer to fire a child’s imagination, with inscriptions such as “And when I am thirsty He brings me a bowl/Of life-giving water to sweeten my soul.”

Mayor Mount walking
Mayor Mount walking from the Moseley House (not visible), with St. Lawrence A.M.E. at center.

From the standpoint of historic preservation, there is much to sweeten the soul in Eatonville.  I viewed the guest book of the Household of Ruth, and saw on its pages many names familiar from Zora Neale Hurston’s life and her writing.  We enjoyed lunch at the restaurant owned by former mayor Abraham Gordon, Jr., and toured the Moseley House, which brims with period artefacts that reflect the careful stewardship of Hurston’s own Zeta Phi Beta sorority.  Later we toured the school on the grounds of the Hungerford Institute, now closed, and gleaned a sense of its importance to the community.  At various times during the day I benefitted from the archival perspective and generosity of Mrs. N.Y. Nathiri, and was privileged to meet her mother, Ms. Ella Dinkins, who at ninety-seven years of age remembered town history with unfailing clarity.

Mrs. N. Y. Nathiri
Mrs. N.Y. Nathiri displays artefacts in the home of Mrs. Ella Dinkins.

The day came to a fitting and memorably powerful end with a chance to walk the grounds around Mrs. Louise Franklin’s home. With a catch in his voice, her son explained how the family had held that had been purchased against all odds. It had long served as an oasis for black life—social gatherings, picnics, campouts, baptisms, community fellowship—in spite of segregation’s long grind.  This history was made tangible, for example, in the lanyards that dangle where lanterns once glowed from tree branches, and in the planks that had served as simple benches, now overgrown by the trees. Seeing and touching that history made it real to him (and to me), and brought home the importance of conserving it.

Mrs. Franklin
Mrs. Franklin shows one of the benches on her historic and storied property.

The visit was also a reminder of how fortunate the Southern Historical Collection is to work in partnership with communities that are using their unique heritage to support campaigns of renovation and preservation, as the HBTSA charter states, “such that those who follow will have the ability to assume active stewardship to understand, interpret and appreciate these historic places through the lenses of their inhabitants.” These projects require the talents of community members, students, and future archivists, and so we were grateful to have a chance to tell others about the work of HBTSA at a breakout session during the recent TEDx UNC conference.  My good colleague Chaitra Powell and I shared information with attendees about the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA), the summer fellowships in the towns sponsored by UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, and the forthcoming ThatCamp Community Archives conference at UNC. We hope that the conference will contribute to the energy and creativity surrounding HBTSA and serve other communities as well.

Chaitra Powell
Chaitra Powell shares information about the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance and ongoing SHC projects at TEDx UNC.