LACA priority areas

Matt Greenhall, Deputy Executive Director of Research Libraries UK (RLUK) and member of LACA, and Fred Saunderson, Rights and Information Manager at National Library of Scotland and Chair of LACA, introduce LACA’s current priorities and new working group structure

Providing a voice to the community

LACA represents a broad cross-section of the library, information, and heritage communities. Our strength lies in our convening power amongst organisations and ability to harness the collective expertise of our members for the benefit of the wider community.

The library, archive, and information communities face many challenges regarding the copyright and licensing frameworks under which they operate, and there are many opportunities for collective action. Some of these opportunities relate to better understanding and making the best use of current frameworks and exceptions to copyright, while others relate to more fundamental revisions of the UK’s copyright legislation.

Responding to community needs

In order to give our work a coherence and structure, LACA has identified a number of key priority areas for the coming months and years. These are responsive to the needs of our communities, have been informed by sectoral surveys and discussions, and seek to create an open dialogue regarding the steps required to enable scholars, communities, and members of the public to make the greatest use of the wealth of material held in UK libraries and archives. We are forming  dedicated working groups for each priority area, composed of LACA members and colleagues from the wider community. This work remains connected to wider international and cross-sector discussions and initiatives, and LACA members are well placed to contribute to these.

This post outlines and contextualises some of LACA’s key priority areas.

Unlocking the potential of collections

The UK’s libraries and archives hold incredible, internationally-significant collections which underpin groundbreaking academic scholarship, community-led research, and individual learning. Whereas once such activities depended on a physical visit to a library or an archive, the digital shift in collections, services, and user expectations has revolutionised how research and scholarly endeavor are conducted (1). The importance of making more material available and discoverable online is well recognised. Recent funding programmes, such as the AHRC’s Towards a National Collection, have placed a renewed emphasis on the UK’s incredibly rich cultural heritage being made available, and discoverable, online and the infrastructural and methodological requirements of achieving this.

Only a fraction of the UK’s cultural collections have been digitised and the ability of libraries and archives to undertake mass digitisation of materials has an important role in ensuring our virtual collections are more representative of the collections held across the UK. Copyright frameworks need to enable libraries, archives, and other cultural organisations to digitise out of commerce works at scale and make these available for non-commercial use. A robust orphan works exception to copyright is required – just as the current exception is set to be lost following the UK’s departure from the European Union – to enable the digitisation and making available of works for which no copyright holder can be found. Libraries and archives have the technical ability and expertise to make more collections available and to facilitate increasingly imaginative and creative ways of enabling their use through the application of emerging technology and digital scholarship techniques.However, the UK’s copyright framework limits this potential. It hasn’t kept pace with the digital shift.

The realisation of the potential of digital collections depends not only on the ability of archives and libraries to make these collections available but, in a digital world, to make them available anywhere and to anyone. This requires copyright legislation and exceptions that are technology-neutral wherever possible, to enable the presentation of material on any device, anywhere in the world, rather than restricting their use to outdated understandings of access, such as dedicated onsite terminals. The interdependence of digital access on dedicated terminals, located in physical spaces, is a key impediment to the accessibility and use of digital collections. This has been brought into sharp focus by the closure of library and archive buildings during the Covid-19 pandemic (2). 

Enabling creativity 

The fast pace of the digital shift across libraries and archives underlines the need for a new ‘open norm’, an open-ended exception to copyright which avoids the current situation where creativity and research in the UK cannot immediately benefit from technological innovation. This will avoid the considerable time lag between technological innovation and possibility, and the UK’s scholarly community’s ability to take advantage of these. It remains imperative that the duration of copyright protection be time limited, proportionate, fair and effective. Archival collections remain hamstrung by copyright protection being perpetuated for centuries’ old works, the so-called ‘2039 duration’ of copyright. 

Libraries, archives and, crucially, individuals, should have the right to enjoy statutory exceptions to copyright with guaranteed protection of user rights. Contracts and technical protection measures must not be able to inhibit the lawful exercise of exceptions to copyright and there must be an effective and expedient means to redress against undue ‘exception blocking’. The use of exceptions to copyright in given situations will, understandably, be challenged from time to time, but remedial mechanisms must be permitted against unjustified threats of infringement. 

Responding to a changing landscape

Several of LACA’s key priorities are responsive to specific changes and events which will have a profound impact on the UK’s copyright framework. The UK’s departure from the European Union means that the UK will now require a new enabling clause for secondary copyright legislation, previously enabled under the European Communities Act. Following its departure from the EU, the UK will also be negotiating a series of trade agreements with countries around the world, all of which are likely to include clauses around intellectual property. In an ever connected and international information landscape, the provisions and contents of these will require scrutiny and their likely impact and implications understood for the information community. It is imperative that information users are not disadvantaged through these agreements.  LACA will also continue to advocate for a UK orphan works exception, to enable libraries and archives to unlock the digital potential of their collections and the maximise the availability of these online.  

Beyond Brexit, the recent experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed the need to explore greater means for the making available of in-copyright works during public emergencies. This is especially pertinent in relation to medical and emergency related research, and to enable remote and online education. LACA, working with like-minded organisations, advocated on behalf of its members to ministers and the need to urgently provide responsive and temporary relaxation of copyright legislation in light of the Covid-19 pandemic to support learning, research, and innovation, and has since charted the impact that the UK copyright framework has had on the ability of its members to support online learning (3). The experience of libraries during the pandemic has exposed the inequity and unsustainability of the current licencing of e-print and that this requires urgent revision (4).

Commitment to openness

LACA is working on behalf of our members to advocate and support an efficient and effective copyright regime which enables the equitable use of archival and library collections to support pioneering scholarly research and learning. Our commitment to openness extends to research outputs and the provision of free and open access to research outputs, in particular where research has been developed with public funds. 

Collective action and advocacy

These are some of the key priorities that LACA will be pursuing in the coming months and years through our research, outreach, and advocacy. LACA has formed a series of working groups to translate these ambitions into tangible activities and programmes of work. These activities will include the undertaking of further research, the collation of existing tools and guidance, and enhancing knowledge sharing between communities. They also include breaking new ground, including the creation of new materials to support the community in navigating the UK’s existing copyright landscape, whilst advocating for change with ministers and the IPO where necessary. 

LACA is here to provide a collective voice in favour of a balanced and beneficial copyright regime for the library, archive, and information communities. We welcome conversations with like-minded organisations. We are committed to playing an active and constructive role in reshaping the UK’s copyright and licensing provision to support research and scholarly endeavor whilst releasing the full potential of the UK’s incredible cultural collections.

  1. RLUK’s manifesto for the digital shift in research libraries offers a collective response to these changes on behalf of research libraries. For further information see
  2. Something explored in greater detail in M Greenhall, Covid-19 and the digital shift in action, RLUK Report (July 2020),
  3. LACA et al, Letter to Ministers re: Copyright and enabling remote learning and research during the Covid-19 crisis; LACA blog, Fred Saunderson, Copyright, closure of library and archive premises, and access to collections,
  4. Also explored in: M Greenhall, Covid-19 and the digital shift in action, RLUK Report (July 2020),; D Prosser, A framework for thinking about the ‘new normal’, RLUK (June 2020),