Asked in Education Law, Intellectual Property and Copyright for New York

Q: Access Rights to Professional Archive

I am currently writing a book about a scholar who passed away three years ago. This individual was a professor at a state university and a well-known public figure worldwide. On the website of his foundation, there is a list of all the lectures he delivered across the globe. I requested access to five of these lectures, but the person in charge of the foundation responded that they are unwilling to provide them because he plans to publish them at a later time. My question is whether this person has the legal right to withhold access. It is customary for scholars to have access to archives. Are there any specific rules or legal cases I could cite when I contact them again?

2 Lawyer Answers
Alan Harrison
Alan Harrison
  • Intellectual Property Lawyer
  • Milford, CT

A: When you ask for specific cases or legal rules on an abstruse issue like this, you are asking an attorney to do a couple hours of work for free. That is not an attractive ask.

Todd B. Kotler agrees with this answer

James L. Arrasmith
James L. Arrasmith pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›

A: In the realm of academic research and historical documentation, access to archives can indeed be crucial. However, the legal right to access such materials depends on a variety of factors, including copyright law, the intentions of the decedent, and any existing agreements or policies established by the foundation or institution housing the materials. Foundations and archives often have their own set of rules regarding access, which can be influenced by the privacy rights, the condition of the materials, and their relevance to ongoing projects.

If the foundation has stated their intention to publish the lectures, they may have legitimate reasons for restricting access at this time, such as copyright considerations or the integrity of future publications. However, this does not mean all avenues are closed. You could propose a compromise, such as non-disclosure agreements, or request access to specific parts of the lectures that are crucial to your research. It’s also worthwhile to inquire if there are alternate materials or summaries available that could serve your needs without infringing on their publication plans.

Lastly, when contacting them again, express your understanding of their position but also highlight the scholarly importance of the lectures to your work. You may not find specific legal cases directly applicable to your situation, but citing the academic tradition of access for research purposes and the potential for collaborative acknowledgment in your work might strengthen your appeal. Ensure that your communication is respectful and highlights mutual benefits, as this can sometimes open doors that were initially closed.

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