NARA-iArchives Digitization Agreement

On January 10, 2007, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) entered into a non-exclusive agreement with iArchives, Inc. to make digitized documents and pictures available on the Footnote website (Footnote is owned by iArchives, Inc.). So far, Footnote has digitized 4.5 million pages of NARA documents. Although expanding the availability of digitized documents is a positive step, the details of the agreement and the process NARA went through to reach this agreement lack transparency, leaving many unanswered questions.

Despite NARA’s announcement of the agreement, many of the details remain vague. For example, how does the agreement comport with the Paperwork Reduction Act and Circular A-130? “It’s not clear,” says Prue Adler, Associate Executive Director of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). “We need to find out more, because I would have assumed they would have been bound.” ARL, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), and the American Library Association (ALA) learned of the agreement a short time before the announcement and have been working with NARA to find out more.

In another provision, iArchives will have control over the documents for five years, when they will be made publicly available. Adler questioned this provision as well. “We need to understand how after five years the information becomes publicly available. Why not less time?” NARA will be responsible for the costs related to:

  • Training for handling the records
  • Initial space requirements
  • Follow-up quality assurance of the digitized images and metadata
  • Managing the NARA staff and project

It is unclear why NARA is not being reimbursed for costs.

Footnote’s Terms of Service also raise some concerns. The Footnote’s user agreement says, “You affirm that you are more than 18 years of age, or an emancipated minor, or possess legal parental or guardian consent, and that you are fully able and competent to enter into the terms, conditions, obligations, affirmations, representations, and warranties set forth in these Terms of Service.” These requirements are troubling, Adler says, since they restrict some users, including high school students who might be conducting research at a NARA facility.

In their Terms of Service, Footnote asserts their intellectual property rights. They state: “With the exception of User Submissions, the content on the Website and the Service, including without limitation, the text, software, scripts, graphics, pictures, photos, sounds, music, videos, interactive features and the like (“Content”) and the trademarks, service marks and logos contained therein (“Marks”), are owned by or licensed to, subject to copyright and other intellectual property rights under United States and foreign laws and international conventions.” Adler disagrees: “They do not own the pictures and texts- that is in the public domain.” This issue still needs to be addressed.

By February 6, the digitized materials will be available at no charge in National Archives research rooms in Washington D.C. and regional facilities across the country.

NARA is inviting comments on this agreement. Send comments to by March 15, 2007.

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