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Are Canada's Archives for sale?
By John Corcelli
Peter Jennings once said that Canadians have a lot of respect for
their institutions. How do we feel about our archives? Are they
up for sale?
I decided to investigate for myself after learning of the sale
of 800 images from the National Archives to Corel Corporation in
Ottawa. Images are available on CD-ROM for $26 each. There are 8
in the series. (Globe & Mail, April 11th,1998) As a Canadian,
who cherishes our history and the images of that history, a list
of questions leapt to mind because I had to more to learn.
Is our Canadian heritage up for bids? What about privacy, copyright
and images in the public domain? Will our sacred photo-collection
be relegated to the sale of beer or, God forbid, a car or bottle
of cologne? Armed with these questions, I contacted the National
Archives in Ottawa and the provincial archive offices in Nova Scotia,
Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. For my own well-being, and
the chance at a decent night's sleep, I had to know if there were
any "checks & balances", as it were, in place. Would
my favourite images of Agnes Macphail and Sir John A. Macdonald
end up on a tacky tee-shirt?
In Ottawa, I spoke with Brian Carey, Director of Communications
for the National Archives. He told me that the deal with Corel Corporation
was set up by the Friends of the National Archives, a non-profit
group that operates at arms length from Government Agency. Certain
restrictions apply to this particular deal.
The National Archives gets around 100,000 requests a year for archival
images, usually photographs or maps. All of these are secured by
the Archives in their original format. Every request is reviewed
based on the following criteria: origin, whether it's in the public
domain, copyrighted and finally how the image is to be used by the
requester. Full credit of the image must be seen on the reproduction
of every archive in the public domain. The National Archives always
asks the requester about the specific usage of the image. They then
issue a reproduction of the image, once, and charge a fee. Funds
are put back into the general consolidation fund of the federal
In British Columbia it is, according to Archivist Gary Mitchell.
Ten years ago the B.C. Archives needed funding to aid its preservation
work for its rich collection. After a long and detailed process
to work out a policy, they made a deal with PAN Video to broker
the commercial use of images in the public domain and to collect
But the majestic images of the Rocky Mountains are not going to
appear on a tee shirt next summer, or at any time. Gary Mitchell
assured me "that we [at the BC Archives] have the last word
and final approval on all uses to safeguard the integrity of the
images." Last year, the first year of the agreement with PAN
Video, the BC Archives earned about $12,000. All monies were returned
to the archives and their preservation.
Mitchell reported interest from Paris Match and NBC News,
to name two, generated from their Internet site. Some 30,000 images
are available to anyone around the world. BC is very interested
in being pro-active about the use of its archives by other media
and by students. In its promotional efforts, B.C. seems to be the
exception rather than the rule. The Internet has opened a lot of
new doors to accessibility to information so it shouldn't be any
different for Canada's archives. Says Mitchell, "the speed
of electronics has changed our attitudes about our heritage. People
want archivists to release stuff quickly, but people must know that
we are here to preserve it
it has to survive."
Lois York at the Nova Scotia Provincial Archives, fundamentally
believes that information should be a "free commodity"
and available to everyone. While no official policy regarding images
is in place, they still insist on careful consideration about the
use of an image. However each province has different regulations
with their respective archive offices.
Nova Scotia's rich, preserved heritage stretches, end to end, for
over three kilometres, including 100,000 photographs. Images in
the public domain are protected and are copied for a small user
fee. Income is small so it's not a real revenue generating project,
although that policy may change in the future. Issues of copyright
ownership and rights of privacy are considered carefully before
an image is released. Credit to the Nova Scotia Archives must be
given by the user.
In Alberta, Dr. Claud Roberto, Business/Marketing Manager for the
Archives, says that a simple policy is in effect for its collection.
Tee shirts companies should not bother to ask for use of an image.
That said, up to $30,000 was earned last year and put back into
the preservation of negatives of photographs, for instance. Dr.
Roberto emphasized strict guidelines for every inquiry.
In Ontario, one can see images of our past, just about everywhere
with the bulk of the requests coming from the publishing industry.
Revenues are returned to the consolidated fund of the Ontario government,
but B.C. leads the way on the promotion of its archives, says Allan
MacDonald, Manager of the Ontario Archives. "We are in the
process of putting our catalogue of microfilm onto the Web site
but it's going to take some time to develop a system of retrieval.
Our goal is to make the general public aware of its archives
archives are 'public' institutions made available not locked away
just for archivists. They are for all to enjoy."
While access and commercial usage may be on the rise, there are enough "checks & balances" in place to maintain the integrity of Canada's images with consideration for copyright and privacy. This reporter is relieved to know that his favourite image of Sir John A. Macdonald will not appear in beer ad.
Published in Sources, Number 43, Winter 1999.