Adopted September 30, 2014

General principle

The mission of the Harvard Library is to advance scholarship and teaching by committing itself to the creation, application, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. 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 collections in Harvard's archives and libraries, and it provides a way for the Harvard Library to share its intellectual wealth with the rest of the world. In order to foster creative reuse of digitized content, Harvard Library 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.


Harvard Library asserts no copyright over digital reproductions of works in its collections which are in the public domain, where those digital reproductions are made openly available on Harvard Library websites. To the extent that some jurisdictions grant an additional copyright in digital reproductions of such works, Harvard Library relinquishes that copyright. When digital reproductions of public domain works are made openly available on its websites, Harvard Library does not charge for permission to use those reproductions, and it does not grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute them. As a matter of good scholarly practice, Harvard Library requests that patrons using Library-provided reproductions provide appropriate citation to the source of 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, Harvard Library 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 Harvard Library 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 Harvard or a third party) to use the digital reproduction in other countries.

  • Public domain determination: When possible, Harvard Library will provide information on the copyright status of works that have been digitized and are made openly available. The nature of historical collections, however, is such that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine. The absence of explicit information on copyright is no guarantee, therefore, that a work is in the public domain either in the U.S. or abroad. Nor can Harvard Library guarantee the accuracy of any information about copyright status that it does provide. The Library 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 legal assessments of an item's status in the arena in 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: There may be costs associated with fulfilling requests for new digitization or for the provision of digital files that are not openly available (for example, high-resolution versions of web-accessible material). Fees for such reproduction and distribution services are set by the responsible library unit.

  • Openly available: This policy applies to publicly accessible digital reproductions found on Harvard Library web sites that, without restrictions, allow free downloads of digital images of public domain works. Any content that requires a user to log-in, authenticate, pay money, or agree to license terms, or that otherwise is subject to or accompanied by restrictions on access or use, is not considered openly available.

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

  • Information on use: Formal requests for permissions to publish have traditionally served the purpose of providing a means for acquiring information about image use. Harvard Library may implement systems to identify and track the use of images made openly available under this policy.

  • Citation and credit: Harvard Library requests as a matter of good scholarly practice that appropriate citations be provided to the source of digital reproductions that are used in any media. Source libraries and archives often provide preferred forms of attribution, citation, or credit in the metadata for a digital reproduction.

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

Harvard Marks/Name

The users of digital reproductions should not suggest or imply that Harvard Library endorses, approves of, or participated in their projects. Harvard'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, or be large or prominent. The use of the Harvard name or trademarks for any purpose other than standard source citation requires the prior approval of the Harvard University Trademark Program:


The use of digital reproductions made available by the Harvard Library shall be at the user's sole risk. To the fullest extent permitted by law, Harvard 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. Harvard shall not be responsible or liable for any damage that may occur due to your use of any material that Harvard Library makes openly available. As used in this paragraph, "Harvard" includes Harvard Library, Harvard University and their respective governing board members, officers, employees, agents and affiliates.

Also see the Policy FAQ.