Testing the barriers to digital
A study seeking copyright permission to
digitize published works
Carole A. George
Archives and Digital Library Initiatives, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Purpose – The aim was to explore the issues related to acquiring copyright permission with the goal
of determining effectiveness and efﬁciency using the least complex process.
Design/methodology/approach – A random sample of books was chosen, relevant information
was recorded, request letters were sent and tracked, and results (permission received or denied) were
analyzed with respect to publisher, publication data, time required, and issues related to the process.
Findings – About 52 percent responded with a yes or no with 24 percent yes responses. Nearly 25
percent never responded, addresses were not found for about 16 percent, approximately 7 percent were
too complicated to pursue and response time averaged about three months.
Research limitations/implications – Results were affected by the limited staff time available to
work on the project, the many changes in staff, and the sometimes lengthy time between follow-ups.
Practical implications – The low rate of positive responses indicates the need to focus on
publications and publishers most likely to provide permission: older and out-of-print materials,
non-commercial publishers, special collections, while using designated staff and personal contact to
Originality/value – Few previous studies exist in this area. This study might beneﬁt other libraries
with respect to planning, deﬁning procedures, and improving results.
Keywords Copyright law, Libraries, Digital libraries
Paper type Research paper
In the Carnegie Mellon Digital Library Plan 2000-2007, the goal was to migrate to a
predominantly digital library (Clair et al., 1999). This goal addresses two issues:
preference of students and faculty for full-text resources available online and lack of
space for the physical collection. This study examined the process of acquiring
copyright permission to digitize books for access via the internet.
The process and methods, the amount of staff time required, and other related
issues were explored in the Copyright Permissions project (1999-2001). The project
explored the process of acquiring permission to digitize and provide free internet
access to a randomly selected sample of publications from the Libraries’ collection. The
motivation was to learn more about issues related to the process and complexity of
The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Many people contributed their time and energy to this project including Denise Troll Covey,
Tracey DePellegrin Wagner, Valarie Wadyko, Leigh Caskey Schenk, Martha Knott, and Gloria
New Library World
Vol. 106 No. 1214/1215, 2005
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited