Digitisation contracts

FOI request reference: F0043248
Publication date: October 2015


All available information on tender, contract, agreements or licenses for use of data in regard to the digitisation, transcription and online publication of images and data by the National Archive in conjunction with third party partner organisations like Find My Past and Ancestry and any other organisations, in particular information covering who owns the right to the data and images produced by third parties and the referencing databases that hold this data and images in relation to all UK census currently published or under contract for digitisation at present.

Clarification was sought from the enquirer who confirm that: ‘…I am looking for the previous contract notices and the contracts that derived from those groups that National Archive have partnered with to transcribe the data on the 1841 -1901 censuses…


Partially successful


There is one Licensed Internet Associateship (LiA) contract with Ancestry which covers the 1841-1891 censuses and a separate LiA contract with findmypast for the 1901 census.

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide you with this information because it is covered by the exemption at section 43(2) of the FOIA, which exempts information which would prejudice the commercial interests of any organisation, including the public authority itself. For further information about why this exemption has been applied, please see the explanatory Annex at the end of this letter.

Section 41(1) of the Act also applies to this information. This exempts from disclosure information which would constitute an actionable breach of confidentiality. It is considered that the contract signed with the third parties contains the necessary qualities of confidence, and that release of the information concerned could result in legal action being instigated.

It is worth emphasising that although The National Archives owns the master image bank, this is not in a searchable form. In other words, they are photographs or scans of census forms without any way of searching through them.

The text from census forms shown in the images has to be transcribed by humans, who key in all the names, addresses, dates of birth and other data fields into a database, which then becomes the searchable metadata for “online access” to the census. Users search the metadata, not the images. Because the creation of this metadata, and the accurate linking of data to pictures of the original, hand-written pages are extremely labour-intensive and complex undertakings, the companies which take it on under licence from The National Archives retain ownership of those transcriptions.