This page has been archived on the Web

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

Does our museum need a digital licensing agreement policy?

May we post content on flickr, YouTube or Facebook?

What special concerns do Canadian museums face in licensing digital content on a global basis?

What fees should our museum collect for the use of its content on an organization’s Web site?

Who should be part of our negotiating team when licensing digital content?

These are a sampling of the many questions museums face when licensing digital content. Some of these questions revolve around long-standing issues in museums, whereas others are new to the Digital Age and even newer to Web 2.0 (for example, social networking sites, video sharing sites, wikis, and blogs). Museums are using, displaying, storing and disseminating digital content as never before. Most museums are open 24/7 whether through their virtual exhibits (for example, at the Virtual Museum of Canada), YouTube Channel (such as The Vancouver Aquarium and the Art Gallery of Ontario), on flickr (such as the Canadian Museum of Nature) or though blogs (such as the Port Moody Station Museum), or on Facebook and My Space and on and on.

In 2004, when the first edition of this book was published, its focus was on such issues as content (such as electronic periodicals and databases) being licensed for use by museum libraries, and content (such as photographs and articles) museums license for their own use for such things as posting on their Web sites. The increased presence of Canadian museums in global digital arenas is placing demands on museums to be up to speed on their licensing activities and strategies and legal arrangements. To reflect the way that museums and the public now use, access and distribute digital content, museums need a reference source with quick, clear, practical answers.

This book was written to provide information, from the unique perspective of Canadian museums, on how to develop a digital licensing agreement strategy. This second edition continues along this stream to provide a unique Canadian perspective as museums dive into the global scene of licensing their content. I hope to inform you about legal rights and obligations in licence agreements, creating your licensing agreement strategy, negotiating the best licences to meet your needs, lowering your legal liability when licensing and sharing content, and the variety of licensing arrangements which may be used. Chapter 7 of this book sets out specific questions I have been asked by museums at in-person and online seminars, by email, and on the Copyright Qs & As section of the weblog at, with practical answers to help you through the licensing process.

The Unique Position of Museums

In terms of digital licensing, museums are in a unique position. Museums are both licensors and licensees of digital content. In other words, museums sometimes have content others want to use; and they sometimes need the rights to use the content of others. Publishers, for example, do not find themselves in this unique position. They are predominantly licensors and want to license the content they own. Also, libraries are more likely to license and use the content of others than to license their own content (though this may change in the future as they find that similar to museums, libraries have valuable content that others may want to license.) The purpose of this book is to help demystify the licensing process and to provide you with a clear understanding of licensing as both a licensor and licensee of digital content.

Using this Book

This is the first Canadian publication that deals with developing a licensing agreement strategy for museums keeping in mind the distinct needs of Canadian museums. As such, this book includes information on Canadian Heritage issues, tax considerations such as the GST, HST or PST, Canadian copyright collectives, and Creative Commons Canada. This 2nd edition includes more information about global licensing issues since much of the licensing of content by museums is now online, which brings into play global licensing and copyright issues. As such, additional information is provided on the relevance of foreign copyright laws and international conventions to digital licensing arrangements by Canadian museums. Guidance for museums dealing with copyright issues in relation to social networking has also been added to the 2nd edition of this publication.

As we delve further into the 21st century, museums are examining their Intellectual Property (IP) Policies in general. Your digital licensing strategy is an integral part of your IP Policy. For example, your IP Policy will help you identify your IP assets whereas your licensing agreement policy will help you exploit these assets and economically benefit from them. As a further example, your IP Policy deals with how your IP increases your global audience; your licensing agreement policy will ensure that your IP is protected around the world and used according to terms and conditions to which you have agreed.

This book is meant as a practical guide; it does not set out a comprehensive review of this area of the law, which may encompass contract law, copyright law and other areas. Nor should this book be relied upon as providing legal advice. Proper legal consultation should be obtained where necessary.

As a practical book, there are checklists and precedents provided in it and/or referred to. Use them by adapting them to fit your particular needs in your specific circumstances. Determine whether the clauses in the checklist are relevant to your situation. Keep in mind that a licence agreement that works for one museum may not fit the needs of another museum. It may not even fit the needs of the same museum in two different licensing situations for different digital content.

In reading this book, keep in mind that digital technology is rapidly changing and this may affect the way we license works in the digital environment. As such, any discussions of relevant licensing terms and conditions should be carefully reviewed in light of the most up-to-date technological and legal developments, and in light of your own circumstances. For instance, a museum licensing the use of an electronic database in its resource centre would have different concerns than a museum licensing the posting of images from its collection on an organization’s Web site, or a museum posting images on flickr.

Last Word

My final introductory comment is to enjoy the process. Digital licensing is a growing reality in the activities of a museum. It often requires innovative and creative thinking. When you work out a licensing arrangement satisfactory to both involved parties, you will find that this once complex area results in a rewarding experience.

Lesley Ellen Harris

Contact information for this web page

This resource was published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). For comments or questions regarding this content, please contact CHIN directly. To find other online resources for museum professionals, visit the CHIN homepage or the Museology and conservation topic page on

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: