Copyright and related rights

Copyright can be a very complex matter. Being a former professional photographer I am very aware of copyright laws. This downloadable pdf from the National Archives especially pages 15 and 16 does a very good job of explaining the matter. Also, please be aware that there are licensing rights too.

With Findmypast and Ancestry, they have licensing rights. Often the material they digitise comes under Crown Copyright or you may have to contact a Records office to seek any permissions should you wish to publish an image on social media, website or in an article/book.

Below is a pdf produced by the National Archives explaining copyright. It can be downloaded from the and is available to distribute via the Open Government License V3.

More information on copyright and intellectual property can be obtained from here too.

A personal case study

A few years ago I visited a Records Office to study the female casebooks for a County Asylum. I was looking for the case notes for Emma, the wife of my Great Grand Uncle. Emma, born in 1851, arrived at the asylum on July 8th 1884. She died in the asylum in 1933. Spending a long 48 years, 6 months and 11 days incarcerated there.

Having photographed the case notes (with permission and fee paid) I then spent time transcribing all the information.

When a patient was admitted they are given a number for the ledgers, Emma was 4115. Several facts were also taken.

  • Name; Age; Civil state; Occupation; Height; Weight;
  • Address of nearest relative; Parish; Date of Admission; Register Number;
  • Form of insantity; Duration; Cause – 1. Exciting. 2. Predisposing 3. Hereditary
  • Epileptic; Suicidal; Violent; Habits; Education amount of; Religion
  • There are then details of her first attack and a family history written down.

Now, the rest of the information is where it gets tricky re copyright.

Attending a workshop on copyright I discussed the casebook ledger. I was informed by an archivist, that the Doctors and nurses notes are their interpretation of events that happen and her condition. It should therefore be classed as a literary work. This then posed a problem. The casebook notes have never been published so the following now applies.

  • Is the author known? Yes (mainly note signed by surgeon for Asylum)
  • Is the work a literary, dramatic, or musical work created before 1 August 1989? Yes
  • Is the work a photograph taken before 1st June 1957? No
  • Was the work published before 1 August 1989? No
  • Did the author die before 1 January 1969? Yes*

Answer: Copyright expires 31 December 2039.

However, I do have a few options. I could choose not to use any of the case notes. Or I could use approx 5% if it is for educational purposes and research. Now, this is open to interpretation as speaking to an author who writes books on asylum life, they would class 5% of the whole ledger. I have erred on the side of caution and will use 5% of Emma’s case notes in my talk.

The other option I have is to read through the notes and re-write using my own words.

On a personal note, I find that disappointing as I believe her story should be heard, as people saw her at the time. She was forgotten for long enough.

Courtesy of The National Archives via Open Government License V3.

Footnote: Did the author die before 1969. For the latter case notes the Doctor could feasible be alive. However, there is a 100-year rule on looking at records, like the 100-year rule re census returns. Example 1921 census became available on 6th January 2021. So I am unable to show records from 1921 onwards anyway. I do have her death certificate for her date and cause of death.