Case Study: Compliance at the Schweizerische Sozialarchiv (SSA)

The Schweizerische Sozialarchiv (SSA) was founded in 1906 in Zürich (Switzerland) to document the 'social question' and promote access to collections. From the outset, the archive have been non-partisan, attempting to document all major political and religious tendencies. Collections currently reflect themes such as: gender and age relations, migration, labor history and trade unionism, social policy, political parties and social movements, the environment, and communication and transportation. Holdings comprise over 27,000 units (2.5 kilometers) of archival material, including more than 100,000 photos, posters, and visual objects; 150,000 books; and press and propaganda material numbering almost 2 million items. One of their main stated aims is to employ new information technologies and new means of dissemination to give access to their materials. SSA joined the HOPE project as an external partner to support their mission of dissemination and access through technology. They are also participating in the development of HOPE's Shared Object Repository (SOR) storage solution and see the experience as valuable to their own digital object management work.

Before starting HOPE, SSA took the precaution of ensuring that formalized agreements were in place for all donations from corporate bodies and private individuals. All agreements include clauses treating: access conditions for donors and depositors, rules on the access to and reuse of documents by third parties, and copyright issues. As a standard practice, depositors or donors give SSA authorization to photocopy, microfilm, or scan documents for non-commercial purposes; they are likewise encouraged to permit online distribution of documents via the institutional web site. Such provisions are applied not only to physical material and audiovisual media of every kind, but also to any born-digital records deposited at SSA. As a result, about 95 percent of the Schweizerische Sozialarchiv's archival holdings are accessible without any restriction. The few collections, and selected record groups and series, that are subject to access restrictions include personality-related records from the gay and lesbian movement, copies of state security files, and holdings on extremist parties. Documents with pornographic, racist, or sexist content are also restricted based on in-house policy.

The questions of copyright and data protection have always been treated by the SSA in a very pragmatic way. They remain the only institution among the HOPE partners to lack formal policies on access, privacy/data protection, and copyright. They have, moreover, been willing to take risks when the importance of access to the material clearly outweighed the collective or individual interests to be protected. They note that only a few conflicts have resulted from their pragmatic approach and all disputes were settled out of court.

The online presentation of digital objects and metadata has considerably changed the setting. The HOPE project has been an important impetus to review intellectual property rights (IPR) issues from this new perspective: copyright, access, and reuse had to be fixed and, where possible, conclusively resolved. SSA management discovered that Swiss legislation differed in several important respects from the copyright legislation in other countries. When compared with the laws of other European countries and the US, the Swiss Copyright Law is relatively permissive. For example, under Swiss federal law there is no absolute prohibition of circumvention and the download of content from the internet for private use is permitted free of charge. This has provided SSA considerable latitude. On the other hand, SSA has placed renewed emphasis on data protection, and online material was reassessed for potentially sensitive content. As a result, several files, including audio recordings of the meetings of various trade union bodies, have had to be blocked or deleted from the institutional site.

The Schweizerische Sozialarchiv's experience reveals how due diligence can affect everyday practice. Rights obtained early in the archival workflow have given SSA the freedom to broadly disseminate their holdings. The case also illustrates the effect of national legislation on local institutional policies and practice.

This section last updated July 2013. Content is no longer maintained.