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Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Software Preservation

Sloan-Logo-primary-blac-webThe Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Software Preservation provides clear guidance on the legality of archiving legacy software to ensure continued access to digital files of all kinds and to illuminate the history of technology. It provides librarians, archivists, curators, and others who work to preserve software with a tool to guide their reasoning about when and how to employ fair use—the legal doctrine that allows many value-added uses of copyrighted materials—in the most common situations they currently face.

Libraries, archives, and museums hold thousands of software titles that are no longer in commercial distribution, but institutions lack explicit authorization from the copyright holders to preserve these titles or make them available. Memory institutions also hold a wealth of electronic files (texts, images, data, and more) that are inaccessible without this legacy software.

The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Software Preservation will help this community overcome legal uncertainty by documenting a consensus view of how fair use applies to core, recurring situations in software preservation. It presents a series of five situations in which librarians, archivists, curators, and others working to preserve software can employ fair use:

  • Accessioning, stabilizing, evaluating, and describing digital objects
  • Documenting software in operation, and making that documentation available
  • Providing access to software for use in research, teaching, and learning
  • Providing broader networked access to software maintained and shared across multiple collections or institutions
  • Preserving files expressed in source code and other human-readable formats

Development and dissemination of the Code was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Additional Information

Code of Best Practices and Other Legal Tools for Software Preservation (ARL-Software Preservation Network webinar series, February-April 2019)

Software Preservation Best Practices in Fair Use to Help Safeguard Cultural Record, Advance Research (ARL news release, September 2018)

The Copyright Permissions Culture in Software Preservation and Its Implications for the Cultural Record (ARL report, February 2018)

ARL Awarded Sloan Grant to Help Preserve Software, Save Cultural Record, Advance Discovery (ARL news release, October 2017)


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