May 27, 2022

Just Use It: Change in UC Berkeley Library Permissions Policy Lowers Barriers For Researchers

From UC Berkeley Library News:

Not long ago, if researchers wanted to publish excerpts or images from the UC Berkeley Library’s collections in their books or articles, they were confronted with a patchwork of policies — a hard-to-navigate web of fees and permissions that shifted depending on which library on campus held the materials.

Not anymore.

Driven in part by a desire to track the use of their collections, for decades, many museums, archives, and libraries — including the UC Berkeley Library — have required researchers get their approval and, sometimes, pay for permission to include excerpts or images in their scholarship. With the aim of fostering a more researcher-friendly environment, a progressive new policy across all of UC Berkeley’s libraries does away with these hurdles, making it easier for scholars to use a trove of Library materials in their publications.

“This is a broad-minded win for researchers,” said Rachael Samberg, who leads UC Berkeley’s Office of Scholarly Communication Services, which developed the policy with The Bancroft Library. “We have vast collections. We are taking to heart the Library’s mission of lowering barriers.”

Why the policy change? The Library aims to increase access to online resources by taking a more open stance that supports the broadest possible use of its collections — a boon to researchers.


For example, anyone wishing to republish public domain images or make fair uses of materials that the UC Berkeley Library has placed on Calisphere or the Online Archive of California — from a photo of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir overlooking Yosemite Valley to an image of City Hall in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake — can do so without needing permission from the Library.

In fact, from now on, the only time the Library’s permission is ever needed for republishing portions of materials in its collections is when the UC Regents hold the copyright and the researcher’s intended republication goes beyond what would be considered fair use. (If your publication exceeds fair use and the UC Regents are not the copyright holders, you would still need to ask the copyright holder for permission.) A quick note: If you see online descriptive text — on, say, Calisphere — asking you to contact the Library for permission to publish the image, even if your use is fair, don’t worry. Although the new policy is in effect now, it may take some time for metadata for online items to reflect the new policy.


For University Librarian Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, the policy furthers the Library’s mission to make information resources open to all and comes at a crucial time, when the scholarly publishing model is tipping toward open access.

“At the Library, we’re in the information-sharing business,” he said. “We want to make it easier, not harder, to use knowledge resources to better the world. This policy does just that.”

The UC Berkeley Library is not the first to change course on its permissions practices. But particularly for a large research organization, it is ahead of the curve in implementing a policy with such expansive scope — that is, across all of its libraries, beyond special collections — Samberg said.

Learn More, Read the Complete Announcement

Direct to UC Berkeley Library Permissions Policy

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.