Intellectual Property Issues in Archaeological Publication: Some Questions to Consider FORUM

Intellectual Property Issues in Archaeological Publication: Some Questions to Consider FORUM
Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress ( 2008)
DOI 10.1007/s11759-008-9073-9
Intellectual Property Issues in Archaeological
Publication: Some Questions to Consider
Julie Hollowell, Prindle Institute for Ethics, DePauw University,
P.O. Box 37, Greencastle, IN 46135, USA
E-mail: [email protected]
George Nicholas, Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser
University, EDB 9635, 8888 University Drive, V5A 1S6, Burnaby,
BC, Canada
E-mail: [email protected]
ARCHAEOLOGIES Volume 4 Number 2 August 2008
For the past 4 years, in concert with a growing number of colleagues, we
have been examining intellectual property issues within archaeology and the
larger realm of cultural heritage. This topic is garnering increased attention
as archaeologists, descendent communities, and other stakeholders grapple
with difficult questions about the uses and abuses of cultural knowledge and
research data. Our work seeks to identify the issues, examine the
circumstances under which they arise, and disseminate policies and practices
that lead to a better understanding of what is at stake and how to approach
a resolution. Here we are commenting on what questions might be
considered in a situation in which photographs portraying tribal members or
cultural sites taken during the course of a project conducted on tribal land in
the United States are to be printed as part of a public site report or other
publication. Thinking through these issues beforehand can result in positive
resolution and also promote increased awareness of and sensitivity to actual
or potential intellectual property issues related to archaeological practice.
Résumé: Ces quatre dernières années, de concert avec un nombre toujours
plus important de collègues, nous avons examiné les problèmes liés à la
propriété intellectuelle dans le cadre de l’archéologie et du domaine de
l’héritage culturel. Ce sujet recueille une attention soutenue, car les
archéologues, et d’autres parties prenantes, luttent contre les difficiles
questions relatives à l’utilisation et l’abus de la connaissance culturelle et
des données de recherche. Notre travail consiste à identifier les problèmes,
examiner les circonstances dans lesquelles elles se posent et disséminer les
politiques et les pratiques qui amènent une meilleure compréhension de ce
qui est en jeu, et en dernier lieu comment élaborer une résolution. Nous
2008 World Archaeological Congress
Intellectual Property Issues in Archaeological Publication
commentons ici les questions qui doivent être considérées au sujet des
photographies de membres tribaux ou de sites culturels prises à l’occasion
d’un projet archéologique; si elles doivent ou non être imprimées en tant
que rapport public ou dans le cadre d’autres publications. Réfléchir à ces
problèmes à l’avance peut résulter en une résolution positive et également
promouvoir une prise de conscience plus aiguë d’un domaine important
des problèmes de propriété intellectuelle liés à la pratique archéologique.
Resúmen: En los últimos cuatro años, hemos estudiado, en colaboración con
un grupo de colegas cada vez más nutrido, algunas cuestiones relacionadas
con la propiedad intelectual de la arqueologı́a y con el campo más amplio
del patrimonio cultural. Este tema está recibiendo cada vez más atención
ahora que los arqueólogos, comunidades descendientes y otros interesados
se enfrentan a cuestiones de difı́cil respuesta sobre los usos y los abusos de
los conocimientos culturales y los datos de investigación. Con este trabajo
pretendemos identificar los problemas, examinar las circunstancias que los
han originado y difundir las polı́ticas y las prácticas que han propiciado un
mejor entendimiento de lo que está en juego y cómo adoptar una
resolución. En él hablamos sobre las cuestiones que podrı́an considerarse si
se dieran determinadas situaciones, como por ejemplo, en caso de
imprimirse fotos de miembros tribales o lugares culturales durante el curso
de un proyecto arqueológico para incluirlas en un informe público sobre el
sitio o en otra publicación. Recapacitar sobre estas situaciones antes de que
ocurran puede ayudar a alcanzar una resolución positiva y fomentar
también la concienciación y la sensibilidad en el importante asunto de los
derechos de propiedad intelectual relacionados con la arqueologı́a.
Intellectual Property, Cultural Heritage, Photographs, Ethics, Publication
Concerns about intellectual property have become rampant in the arts and
sciences, with discussions about on-line music sharing or protection of
new discoveries through copyright and patents. Intellectual property issues
also pertain to archaeology in a host of ways, and especially in the ethics
of research and publication of research results.1 While archaeology has in
recent decades emphasized cultural property issues, new questions relating
to the less tangible dimensions of the archaeological record extend are
emerging. Who owns the data produced during research? Who has the
right to use them in various forms or media? How should archaeologists
(or other researchers) proceed when data collected during research are
found to contain information or images and designs that are culturally sensitive? What rights do descendant communities have to information
extracted through archaeology? What rights do archaeologists or others
have to knowledge produced from that data?
Often these questions are discussed in the somewhat esoteric atmosphere of academic discourse or legal analysis. What is most illuminating,
however, for policymakers, practitioners, and even legal theorists are onthe-ground cases that show where points of friction exist. These real situations encourage stakeholders to think in advance about what decisions may
need to be made, and to consider the unique context and constraints of
each case, as well as the consequences of various ways of acting—in particular what happens when concerns about intellectual and cultural property
are not voiced or heard, or are misunderstood.
Here we discuss issues of intellectual property and publication, with a
focus on the publication of photographs, by identifying general problem
areas that apply to most instances.2 Although our comments arose around
questions that emerged from a particular case in North America (see The
Midden 39[4]:10–15), we have generalized several points of consideration
to make them of interest to a broader audience: (1) Who owns the copyright to the images that were published?; (2) Does the tribe or group have
a policy in place covering these issues that archaeologists should be aware
of and follow?; (3) What policies on permissions and attributions do publications typically adhere to?; (4) What is the ethical course of action?; and
(5) What was the nature of the relationship between the archaeologist and
the tribe or persons referenced in the published images?
Two other sets of questions, which have to do with the nature of the
collaboration and shared governance, are also important to understanding
the context of such cases:
• Whose traditional lands is the site on and who should be consulted
in regard to its management?
• What was the relationship between the archaeological team, the tribe,
and other parties involved with the project (e.g. a development corporation, a government agency, a university, a museum)? Who has
jurisdiction, and who is employed by whom?
Who Owns the Copyright to Images That
Are to Be Published?
Who actually holds the copyright to the photographs that appear in an
article: the photographer?; an employer?; a tribal authority?; the museum
that ‘‘owns’’ or holds the artifacts? Legally, the copyright of photographs
Intellectual Property Issues in Archaeological Publication
taken of a site or of artifacts is generally owned or held by the photographer. This is because ownership is vested in the individual who physically
exerted the labor to take the photograph. However, if the photographs
were taken by an employee while on the job, unless previously negotiated
in the terms of employment, the copyright will usually belong to the
employer. If this is the case, the use of the photographs in a publication
would require the employer’s permission.
As legal scholar Cindy Carson notes, ‘‘[t]he greatest concerns may be
loss of control over how the images will be used and any profits the use
may create. Governments or individuals may try to prevent the use of the
archaeologist’s own images by restricting access to the site, by making nonpublication a condition of access, or by declaring that all images become
the property of the landowner’’ (1997:291). This is especially true of location information for archaeological sites, which many people consider to
be put at risk if revealed to the public.3
First Nations or tribes may have additional concerns about photographs
of sites or objects, or about other uses of knowledge that may have special
significance or embody cultural meanings that people feel are endangered
when they are made public.4 In most cases, people want to have a voice in
how sites and information pertaining to their pasts5 are presented to the
public, or, at the least, want to be apprised of how the information will be
used.6 Part of the problem is that their concerns or rights to intellectual
property are often not recognized by the legal system, which leaves them
to be expressed in policies and agreements promulgated by a governing
body or other tribal entity.
Does the Tribe Have a Policy in Place That Archaeologists
Should Follow?
A second question is whether the tribe (or similar entity that has oversight in
such situations) has a policy in place that requires some form of permission
or permitting process for either taking photographs of tribal cultural materials (including sites on tribally ceded lands), or regarding the use of such photographs or information about a site in a publication. If so, was this policy
clearly and plainly communicated to the researcher or photographer? If one
were in place, were the tribal members photographed aware of such a policy?
Many First Nations and other Indigenous communities have policies or
protocols that convey local values and tribal policies to archaeologists and
others and serve as memoranda of agreement (see Watkins and Ferguson
2005). This way research becomes a negotiated process, a sign of true collaboration, accountability, and ethical practice. In our experience and that
of our colleagues, fears about censorship of reports or articles are almost
always unfounded when parameters are worked out ahead of time in the
spirit of collaboration.
What Policies on Permissions and Attributions
do Publications Typically Adhere to?
Most publishers’ guidelines require that the author gather and submit evidence that specific permission has been granted before a photo or image
can appear in published form. Attributions of copyright are expected to
accompany the captions of published photographs (e.g., ‘‘used with permission of...’’). Sometimes the institution or individual that lends permission for a photo will specify exactly how the attribution should be stated.
Even if a photographer holds unrestricted copyright to a photo that he
or she took, if it contains an image of a person who can be identified, right
to privacy laws come into play. These require that permission must be
sought from person(s) portrayed before the photo can be used in a marketed work, with the exception of public figures (e.g., politicians or celebrities). For example, the manuscript preparation guidelines of University
Press of Florida (2003:26 [§4.7]) state: ‘‘If a picture includes people who are
not public figures, you will need to have signed release forms from the participants’’ (emphasis in original).
It is generally the responsibility of the author to obtain all the needed
permissions and legal rights for publication, and the publisher typically disclaims any responsibility for inaccuracies or incorrect attributions. The
publisher, however, is responsible for ascertaining that the author has
indeed acquired the permissions needed for publishing. This is standard
editorial policy.
Authors also need to be aware that giving a publisher permission for
use of an image, unless explicitly negotiated in the license agreement, typically also gives them the right to use the image or an altered version of it
on the cover of a book or journal or in other ways to promote the book.
What is the Ethical Course of Action?
Above and beyond the legal implications regarding the publication of copyrighted material, there are ethical issues that underlie the situation. One place
to look for guidance is in the ethics codes and guidelines of professional
archaeological organizations. The eight principles of World Archaeological
Congress’ First Code of Ethics focus on acknowledging the special relationship
between Indigenous peoples and the sites, objects, and data related to their
cultural heritage and on establishing equitable relationships with those whose
Intellectual Property Issues in Archaeological Publication
heritage is being investigated (see Principle 7, in particular). The WAC Code
also includes a set of ‘‘Rules to Adhere To.’’ The first four (see Table 1) are
applicable here, and, of these, three (all but #3) are aspects that a publisher
might want to take into account in accepting manuscripts.
General Considerations
We can outline five general suggestions, based on several similar cases,
which may help archaeologists and the communities with whom they work
avoid problems:
• Tribes (or other such entities) should seek to provide clear guidelines
for researchers and should make sure these are communicated early
in the process, when research is designed, and revisited as a project
• Researchers need to seek appropriate permissions prior to publication
of images or sensitive data (see Bendremer and Richman 2006);
• Researchers should recognize, acknowledge and be accountable to the
special nature of the relationships that First Nations have to the past;
• Journals need to make sure that authors have acquired the permissions needed, even though the responsibility to do so falls upon the
researcher; and
• Some degree of transparency about the nature of the relationship
between archaeologists and First Nations (or lack of one) seems called
for in articles that include information or images about sites or projects located on traditional lands. If the project is truly collaborative
in nature, representatives from the tribe can be asked to review the
article(s) prior to publication, or to act as co-authors.
In the end, conflicts over images can be helped or avoided (a) if there
have been clear guidelines for researchers, including statements about who
owns the copyright to images or data; (b) if archaeologists take a broad
view of accountability, thinking through the consequences of their publication of articles and images; (c) if a tribal or community representative has
been directly involved in the publication, and (d) if a publication recognizes from the outset the potentially sensitive nature of a manuscript or
the photographs it contains and requires the author to seek permissions
and to include proper attributions for any images it publishes. Again, we
reiterate that these considerations are based on consideration of a particular case, so that our comments are not merely speculative, but they are also
not meant to be exactly applicable to other contexts. In any case, we feel it
is important to promote open discussion of how to think through these
Table 1. The First Code of Ethics of the World Archaeological Congress (see for this and
other codes and accords developed and endorsed by WAC)
Adopted by WAC Council in 1990 at WAC-2, Barquisimeto, Venezuela
Principles to Abide By:
Members agree that they have obligations to indigenous peoples and that they shall abide by
the following principles:
1. To acknowledge the importance of indigenous cultural heritage, including sites, places,
objects, artefacts, human remains, to the survival of indigenous cultures.
2. To acknowledge the importance of protecting indigenous cultural heritage to the well-being
of indigenous peoples.
3. To acknowledge the special importance of indigenous ancestral human remains, and sites
containing and/or associated with such remains, to indigenous peoples.
4. To acknowledge that the important relationship between indigenous peoples and their
cultural heritage exists irrespective of legal ownership.
5. To acknowledge that the indigenous cultural heritage rightfully belongs to the indigenous
descendants of that heritage.
6. To acknowledge and recognise indigenous methodologies for interpreting, curating,
managing and protecting indigenous cultural heritage.
7. To establish equitable partnerships and relationships between Members and indigenous
peoples whose cultural heritage is being investigated.
8. To seek, whenever possible, representation of indigenous peoples in agencies funding or
authorising research to be certain their view is considered as critically important in setting
research standards, questions, priorities and goals.
Rules to Adhere To:
Members agree that they will adhere to the following rules prior to, during and after their
1. Prior to conducting any investigation and/or examination, Members shall with rigorous
endeavour seek to define the indigenous peoples whose cultural heritage is the subject of
2. Members shall negotiate with and obtain the informed consent of representatives authorized by the indigenous peoples whose cultural heritage is the subject of investigation.
3. Members shall ensure that the authorised representatives of the indigenous peoples whose
culture is being investigated are kept informed during all stages of the investigation.
4. Members shall ensure that the results of their work are presented with deference and respect
to the identified indigenous peoples.
5. Members shall not interfere with and/or remove human remains of indigenous peoples
without the express consent of those concerned.
6. Members shall not interfere with and/or remove artefacts or objects of special cultural
significance, as defined by associated indigenous peoples, without their express consent.
7. Members shall recognise their obligation to employ and/or train indigenous peoples in
proper techniques as part of their projects, and utilise indigenous peoples to monitor the projects.
The new Code should not be taken in isolation; it was seen by Council as following on from
WAC’s adoption of the Vermillion Accord passed in 1989 at the South Dakota Inter-Congress.
Additional ethical guidelines are currently under discussion; WAC members are
encouraged to address comments to the Committee on Ethics, Julie Hollowell and
Alexander Herrera, co-chairs)
Intellectual Property Issues in Archaeological Publication
issues, especially since concerns about the appropriate use of photographs
and images as forms of intellectual property are likely to continue to
increase in archaeology and related sectors.
Concluding Comments
Today intellectual property issues are increasingly on the agenda, whether
in terms of restrictions on access to information or the exploitation of cultural knowledge for the benefit of public or commercial interests. Within
archaeology, these concerns emerge not only in the obvious areas of cultural tourism or the appropriation and commodification of rock art images
on t-shirts, but also in the areas of research permissions and protocols, dissemination of research data, and censorship (Brown 2003, Nicholas and
Bannister 2004; Nicholas and Hollowell 2006). Sometimes these issues are
posed in the somewhat heady dialogue of culture-based rights and the A2K
(access to knowledge) movement, but most often they transpire at the local
level, such as when tribal representatives believe that their intellectual property, however defined, has been co-opted. It is here that we each must ask
how do we conduct archaeology (or any form of research) in the spirit of
true accountability and an understanding of the potential for both good
and harm that our work has for others. It is not just a question of ‘‘who
owns the past,’’ but how specific material and intellectual aspects of the
past are used or abused for various purposes. Who actually benefits from
archaeology and how are these benefits distributed?
Archaeologists, authors, and publishers might want to take note of the
following two comprehensive resources that contain well thought-out
guidelines for use of cultural knowledge
• The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
(AIATSIS) Guidelines for Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies (http://
These guidelines, from the Institute charged with archiving all
research related to Aboriginal peoples of Australia, ask that researchers
negotiate an agreement about the allocation of intellectual property
rights, gain informed consent for any publications that result, identify
individuals contributing to the research and how they should be
involved or acknowledged in any publications or other outcomes. It
also asks researchers to consult with affected individuals and groups
concerning the details of reports or publications, consider whether
joint authorship is appropriate, and to report results to source
communities before publication.
• Guidelines for Respecting Cultural Knowledge, compiled by the Alaska
Native Knowledge Network (
knowledge.html). See in particular the sections on ‘‘Guidelines for
Authors and Illustrators’’ and ‘‘Guidelines for Editors and Publishers.’’
They suggest, among other things, ‘‘submitting all manuscripts with
cultural content to locally-knowledgeable personnel for review, making
effective use of local and regional entities set up for this purpose.’’
Portions of this article appeared in The Midden, 39(4): 10–15, the publication of the Archaeological Society of British Columbia, and we thank the
editors for supporting the use of the material here. We want to thank all
those involved in the case that prompted this inquiry for raising these
issues so that we can all learn from them. We also benefited from the
review and suggestions of legal scholar Jane Anderson, whose specialties
include intellectual property issues relating to Aboriginal peoples, archival
policies, and the public domain.
1. Much of our work in this area is associated with the development of a major international research collaboration, ‘‘Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage: Theory,
Practice, Policy, Ethics.’’ Information on the project can be found at http://www.sfu.
2. We are not considering here the special concerns that arise with publication of photographs of human remains, leaving that for a future discussion.
3. Limits on the publication of site locations in newspapers and other publications are, of
course, something that archaeologists themselves have long promoted.
4. The customary laws of Indigenous peoples can revolve around heritage values that outsiders may not recognize but which nonetheless carry a great deal of significance for
them (see McLay et al. 2008; also Noble 2007). Also, there is often no real or clear separation between cultural and intellectual property.
5. This also holds for pertaining to their present. One of many examples is the prohibition
on photography in many pueblos in the southwestern United States.
6. Some individuals (Aboriginal or not) may not want to be photographed or to have
photographs of themselves published or made public. In addition, some in this position
may have objections but may not be willing to voice them.
Intellectual Property Issues in Archaeological Publication
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