Copyright clearance is the process of assessing the copyright status of any given work. Making copyright clearance over works is one of the most difficult tasks in mass-digitization projects, even if it is for determining if a work is in the public domain or not. It also varies widely from country to country, depending whether if the country (or the region) has a public policy over orphan works.
Public domain works
Copyright lasts a certain amount of time after the author has deceased (in most countries is +50 or +70 post-mortem, although shorter terms can be found). However, this doesn't mean that determining the status of a work is an easy, straightforward process. Be aware that several countries apply different rules to determine whether a work is in the public domain or not. For example, in certain countries the copyright length may be determined by factors such as if authors were subject to censorship (Russia), if they served as war soldiers during World War II (France), among other cases. Other countries, such as Argentina, Uruguay, Croatia, Hungary, Argelia, Congo Republic, Zaire and Ivory Coast, have a special regime for public domain works, called “paying public domain”, which force users to pay for using public domain works (under certain conditions or not, varying from country to country). Make sure to know what your local law says about Public Domain works.
Exceptions for orphan works
Certain countries allows you to use works whose copyright owners or authors are impossible to find. In those cases, you're entitled to digitize that material, altough you might not be able to upload it to Commons or other free or open licensing projects (such as Internet Archive). However, you'll still need to conduct a diligent search to determine whether you're allowed or not to digitize that material.
Tools for doing copyright clearance
- The VIAF authority control tipically includes the dates of birth and death of an author, which can guide you to establish
- Conduct a query on Wikidata in order to check authors' death dates.
- ARROW Rights clearance workflow
- Forward system
- Diligent Search Project, which identified over 1.500 possible sources (databases) that contain provenance information about works in Europe.