Intellectual Property

Safeguarding Archive of Malian Photography Materials: Workflows, Partnership Agreements, Copyright, and Use Permissions

The archives of professional photographers in Mali have been vulnerable to exploitation and theft. Since the 1990s, when international exhibitions and publications popularized Malian photography and in turn increased its value in global art markets, several negatives from the private archives of professional photographers and their families have been wrongly removed from their possession and/or retained abroad. In some cases, the images later appeared in exhibitions, catalogues, and websites, and reproductions have been sold for profit without compensation to the photographers or their families.

Mindful of this history, the Archive of Malian Photography (AMP) worked with its partners and conservation team to develop scanning workflows, copyright and use permissions, and a partnership agreement aimed at promoting global access to AMP collections while protecting them from exploitation.


To safeguard AMP materials, our workflows include the following measures:

  • The physical negatives never leave Mali.
  • The AMP Bamako-based conservation team, which includes a family representative for each archive (typically a son or early apprentice who is intimately familiar with the material and its contents), helps select negatives for processing and then cleans, rehouses, scans, and catalogs the materials in Mali.
  • After processing, the cleaned negatives -- preserved in acid-free archival-safe envelopes and boxes -- are returned to the photographer/archival custodian. They also receive a hard drive that contains the original high-resolution (TIFF) scans and catalog metadata (in English and French) for their own AMP-processed negatives.
  • To impede the illicit reproduction, printing, and sale of the images, AMP provides free access only to low-resolution distribution versions of the scanned negatives. AMP intentionally down samples the high-quality TIFF scans to jpeg format with a resolution of 72 ppi. 6x6cm negatives do not exceed 800 pixels square while 35mm negatives are resized to 900 pixels across the long dimension. The resulting files are approximately 400KB each, which display clearly online but do not print crisply enough for fine art purposes. In other words, these specifications allow students, teachers, and scholars to study the images for educational and research purposes yet their low resolution does not lend the scans to exploitation through unauthorized printing and resale.

Copyright and Use Permissions

AMP's copyright and use licenses are tailored to the different types of materials in the archive. AMP does not alter the original copyright designation for the negatives. Similar to photographic practices in the U.S., commercial photographers in Mali own the negatives produced in their establishments along with the copyright of the images produced from those negatives. Thus, in AMP, the photographers/archival custodians retain the rights to the original materials and the high-resolution digital scans (TIFFs).

With permission from the photographers/archival custodians, MATRIX houses a complete copy of the original high-resolution (TIFF) scans in perpetuity for archival preservation purposes. Through a Partnership Agreement (English) (French), AMP has secured permission from the photographers/archival custodians to store and deliver the low-resolution jpeg files in two venues. One copy of the distribution files is stored in a digital repository at MATRIX and delivered on the project's website. These files are made available to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. This license allows individuals to use the low-resolution files under certain terms including acknowledging the source of the image, licensing transformations of the materials under the same or a similar license, and for uses that are not commercial (or intended to make money). AMP believes that the CC BY-NC-SA license honors the open access expectations of the project's funders -- British Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities -- while protecting the photographers' interest in restricting undesired commercial uses of their images.

A second complete copy of the low-resolutions jpeg files is on deposit at the Maison Africaine de la Photographie (MAP) in Bamako, Mali. MAP provides free onsite access to AMP materials in Mali so that local community members with limited or no Internet access can view the scanned images.


Metadata created to describe the materials in AMP is licensed under the slightly more open Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA) license. All AMP metadata was created with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the British Library (BL). Providing access to collections digitized with grant funds is a priority for the NEH's Division of Preservation and Access and the BL's Endangered Archives Programme, both of which generously support AMP. Metadata is the key to carrying out this objective, providing contextual information for searching and locating the images within and across the photographers' archival collections. The metadata describes the images, cites creators, and captures information about the provenance of the negatives. Images are also categorized in ways that promote comparison and colocation of like images.

Guided by the access priorities of AMP's funders and Matrix's strong commitment to open data, and because all AMP metadata was created with public funds, the project selected the CC BY-SA license. This Creative Commons license permits copying, sharing, and re-using AMP metadata (not images), even for commercial purposes. These uses are permitted provided users acknowledge the source of metadata and license transformations of the materials under the same or a similar license.

AMP documents and displays its copyright and use permission statements in multiple places. It is included in the metadata and stored in a record for each individual image held in the digital repository. This information is also displayed on the website on the full record page where each scanned image appears with its metadata. In the footer of the site, visible on every page, we have included the CC BY-NC-SA logo with a link to the Creative Commons site describing the use license. When the project is completed, users can bulk download all of the metadata created for AMP images and collections on the Resources page. This page will include information about CC BY-SA license so that use permissions are clear.

Partnership Agreement

In the spirit of transparency and collaboration, AMP project managers (Youssouf Sakaly in Bamako and Catherine Foley at MSU), Malian partners, and project director Candace Keller co-created a Partnership Agreement (English) (French) outlining the expectations and responsibilities of all parties. This document was drafted over the course of many months. It includes a deposit agreement and articulates the copyright and use permission statements that apply to AMP resources. Each photographer/archival custodian and the project's co-principal investigators signed this document.

While unexpected, should a pictured individual or their family member express concern over their right to privacy with regard to images in AMP, we will remove the contested image/s from the public study collection posted on the website. Contact information of photographers/archival custodians are supplied on the site to facilitate researchers' permission requests for access to archival TIFFs.


All images on this site are copyrighted and are licensed by Creative Commons

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA).

For all other uses, including publication and exhibition, explicit permission of proprietor is required.

To make requests, please submit this PERMISSION REQUEST FORM