Free our history

We are campaigning to free our history. Copyright law restricts and distorts how we tell UK history.

What we want

We want the UK Government to reduce the term of copyright protection in unpublished texts to the author’s lifetime plus 70 years.

Why it's important

At the moment the duration of copyright in certain unpublished works is to the end of 2039, regardless of how old the work is.

No other country in Europe has such restrictive provisions. European institutions are able to use such important historical material freely and lawfully, but in the UK we cannot.

As part of the First World War Centenary many organisations want to make unpublished works such as diaries and letters accessible to the public. Because they are still under copyright protection they cannot do so without permission from the rights holder.  

Up to 50% of archival records are orphan works; the rights holder cannot be identified and/or traced.  The Imperial War Museum has 1.75 million documents that are orphaned.

The latest developments - complete our survey!

Despite the high profile Free Our History media campaign to raise attention to the obstacles faced by cultural heritage and public sector organisations, the Government decided not to reform copyright to resolve this issue.

This issue has not gone away. LACA, supported by CILIP, is now trying again to persuade the Government to reform the legislation in order to amend this unnecessary, costly and restrictive duration of copyright. To do this, LACA has put together a short survey to create an evidence base evaluating the cost to the sector of dealing with text based works affected by the 2039 provisions. If your organisation has any such works in its collection we invite you to complete this short survey. The closing date is July 1st 2016.

How else can I help?

If you care about our history please use #catch2039 on Twitter to spread the word 

Ideas of messages to tweet:

Free our history, reform copyright. Support the campaign #catch2039

Why you may have to wait until 2039 to see this letter

Want to see this letter before 2039? Support our campaign to reform #copyright #catch2039

Why is this museum display empty? Free our history, reform copyright. Support the campaign #catch2039

Why can’t we display a WW1 letter? Free our history, reform copyright. Support the campaign #catch2039

How can museums and libraries help?

Museums and libraries around the country are encouraged to display a blank page with the following caption:

We would have liked to show you a letter from a First World War soldier here*. But due to current copyright laws we are unable to display the original. Those laws mean that some of the most powerful diaries and letters in our collections cannot be displayed.

All that we ask is that copyright law is changed so that the duration of copyright in certain unpublished works lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years, rather than until the end of the year 2039.

This would help us to give voice to more of the men, women and children who lived through some of the most turbulent times in our history. We want to tell their stories. Join the campaign to Free Our History by signing a petition at and by tweeting your support using #catch2039.

* If there is a document your organisation wants to display but can’t, insert a brief description of it here.

Encourage people to take a photo of the blank page and tweet their support using:

Free our history, reform copyright. #catch2039 

What needs to change?

There are provisions in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act (ERRA) 2013 to bring unpublished works in line with the copyright term for published works and in line with provisions in the rest of the EU.  These have not yet been implemented.

We are calling on the UK Government to reduce the term of copyright protection in unpublished text based works, engravings and anonymous artistic works (except photographs) from 2039 to the author’s lifetime plus 70 years as per ERRA

Campaign supporters

  • Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals
  • Collections Trust
  • Imperial War Museums
  • International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML) (UK&Irl)
  • Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance
  • National Library of Scotland
  • Scottish Council on Archives
  • UCL Library
  • University of Leeds

How can I find out more?

See below for a briefing about copyright terms for published and unpublished works by the Libraries & Archives Copyright Alliance.

Library and Information Sector Subject Tags