How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Mark writing his Gospel, accompanied by his symbol, the lion, in a Bible historiale, Additional MS 18856, f. 3 (detail).

A guide to how you may reuse images of material of unpublished manuscripts in the British Library’s collection.

Published date:

Unpublished Materials and UK Copyright Law

Under the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act many unpublished text and artistic works created by European Economic Area (EEA) citizens, and some sound recordings and films, remain in copyright in the UK until at least 31 December 2039. 

For unpublished material created centuries ago, and out of copyright in nearly all other countries, the Library believes that publishing this material is very unlikely to offend anyone.

Steps to reuse

As an institution whose role it is to support culture, research and all forms of access to knowledge, the Library has taken the decision to release into the public domain certain digitised images technically still in copyright in the UK. When reusing these images, we kindly ask you to:

  1. Respect the creators. Ensure all ethical concerns pertaining to the originating cultures and communities are considered, and any information relating to the original creator is clear and accurate when the digital object is used elsewhere. Please note, any adaptations made to an image should not be attributed to the original creator and should not be derogatory to the originating person, cultures or communities.
  2. Credit the source of the material.  Please identify the images as coming from the collection of the British Library, and if appropriate, to provide a link to the images on the British Library’s website(s) to encourage others to explore and use our collections further. Identify the images as in the Library’s collection, in the form, ‘The British Library, [shelfmark of the manuscript and folio of the image]’.
    Please note that if you require a citation with a URL, a URL is provided under the ‘About This Item’ and ‘Citation’ fields on some British Library web pages where digital content is available.
  3. Support the public domain. When onward using these works please try and keep these items in the public domain, and therefore free from any usage restriction, to maximise the number of people that can enjoy these unique expressions of our culture.

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Western illuminated manuscripts

Approximately 9,000 manuscripts with decoration or illumination

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Sources for vocal and instrumental works from the Middle Ages to the present

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Cotton manuscripts

The library of Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631)

Greek manuscripts

We have one of the largest and most important resources outside Greece for the study of Hellenic culture