Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Policy on Access to Digital Reproductions of Works in the Public Domain

Frequently Asked Questions

General principle

The mission of the Harry Ransom Center is to encourage discovery, inspire creativity, and advance understanding of the humanities for a broad and diverse audience through the preservation and sharing of its extraordinary collection. The use and reuse of digitized content for research, teaching, learning, and creative activities supports that mission. Digitized content enhances access for students and faculty to Ransom Center collections, and it provides a way for the Center to share its intellectual wealth with the rest of the world. In order to foster creative reuse of digitized content, the Center allows free use of openly available digital reproductions of items from its collections that are not under copyright, except where other rights or restrictions apply.


The Harry Ransom Center asserts no copyright over digital reproductions of works in its collections which are in the public domain. When digital reproductions of public domain works are made openly available on its CONTENTdm site, the Center does not charge for permission to use those reproductions, and it does not grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute them. To the extent that some jurisdictions grant an additional copyright in digital reproductions of such works, the Center relinquishes that copyright. As a matter of good scholarly practice, the Center requests that patrons using Center-provided reproductions provide appropriate citation to the Center as the source of the reproductions. This policy is subject to the explanation and exclusions below.


  • Public domain; levels of copyright. Under this policy, the underlying work that has been digitized must be in the public domain in the United States. The same is true of any secondary representation of the underlying work that is sufficiently original to be protected by U.S. copyright law. Thus, for example, a digital reproduction of an in-copyright photograph of a public domain sculpture is not covered by this policy. Nor is a digital reproduction of a two-dimensional work (such as a page of a book) that is protected by copyright. Under this policy, the Ransom Center is committing not to assert copyright in certain digital reproductions, but is not relinquishing any copyright it may hold in works or secondary representations that have been digitized. Some works that are in the public domain in the U.S. may remain in copyright in other countries. In that case, while the Ransom Center will not assert foreign copyrights in the digital reproduction of such a work when the conditions of this policy are met, it is not relinquishing any foreign copyright it may hold in the underlying work or any secondary representation, and the user of the digital reproduction is responsible for obtaining any permission that is needed (whether from the Ransom Center or a third party) to use the digital reproduction in other countries.

  • Public domain determination: When possible, the Ransom Center will provide information on the copyright status of works that have been digitized and are made openly available on its CONTENTdm site. The nature of historical collections, however, is such that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine. Therefore, the absence of explicit information on copyright is no guarantee that a work is in the public domain either in the U.S. or abroad. Nor can the Ransom Center guarantee the accuracy of any information about copyright status that it does provide. The Center makes no express or implied warranty to others who wish to use digital reproductions of items found in its collections. Users are solely responsible for making independent assessments of an item's legal status for the purpose for which it is to be used.

  • Non-copyright restrictions: Some uses of public domain works may be restricted by trademark, privacy, publicity rights, donor requirements, or other such rights or restrictions. It is the user's sole responsibility to consider the possibility that such rights or restrictions may be involved and to secure any needed permissions.

  • Service fees: Costs associated with fulfilling requests for new digitization or for the provision of digital files that are not currently available through the Center's CONTENTdm site are detailed at the Center's Policies, Fees, and Forms page.

  • Openly available: This policy currently applies only to publicly accessible digital reproductions found on the Center's CONTENTdm site believed to be in the public domain.

  • Exceptions: The Director of the Ransom Center may make exceptions to this policy in particular cases where his or her delegate, determines on balance that the aims of the Ransom Center would be better served by such an exception.

  • Information on use: The Ransom Center may implement systems to identify and track the use of images made openly available under this policy.

  • Citation and credit: The Ransom Center requests as a matter of good scholarly practice that appropriate citations be provided to the Center as the source of digital reproductions that are used in any media. Preferred forms of attribution, citation, or credit are provided in the metadata for each CONTENTdm digital reproduction.

  • Fair Use: Under this policy, digitized reproductions of public domain works may be used for any purpose without first seeking permission from the Ransom Center. Reproductions of many other works in the collections are also available from the Center in varying formats. The Ransom Center supports fair use of its digitized reproductions that are not subject to this policy when all applicable legal criteria are met.

Ransom Center Marks/Name

Users of digital reproductions should not suggest or imply that the Ransom Center endorses, approves of, or participated in their projects. The Center's name should not be used in the title or the name of the product, and it should not be used as a metadata search term, website name or web address; nor should it be large or prominent. The use of the Center's name or trademarks of The University of Texas at Austin for any purpose other than standard source citation requires the prior approval of the Ransom Center.


The use of digital reproductions made available by the Harry Ransom Center shall be at the user's sole risk. To the fullest extent permitted by law, the Ransom Center disclaims all warranties of any kind (express, implied or otherwise), including but not limited to any implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular use, non-infringement, and/or as to the accuracy or completeness of content or related information, in connection with such digital reproductions and your use thereof. The Ransom Center shall not be responsible or liable for any damage that may occur due to your use of any material that the Center makes openly available. As used in this paragraph, "Harry Ransom Center" includes the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin, and their respective governing board members, officers, employees, agents and affiliates.

Also see the Policy FAQ.

Last revised June 30, 2015



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