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I’ve drawn on the images from this site (http://www.godecookery.com/afeast/afeast.htm) in teaching, especially for a class that I have taught on food in pre-modern Europe, using several of the images to illustrate points in a lecture. It’s the simplest sort of a digital collection, really, maintained by a single person out of personal interest. The images are grouped thematically on separate pages, and each theme page has thumbnails and brief descriptions of the images; the images themselves can be reached by clicking the thumbnail. So it’s not a particularly sophisticated collection in terms of organization or labeling, but since it’s also not that large of one, the way that it is set up suffices for the purpose.

Given that I’ve just been thinking about copyright issues, it’s notable that the site’s owner is erratic in attributing the origins of the images displayed. Some are; for instance, an image of a baker (http://www.godecookery.com/afeast/kitchens/kit055.html) is said to be from a 1432 Flemish manuscript of Boccaccio’s Decameron. Others, like this merchant with a nutmeg (http://www.godecookery.com/afeast/foods/food005.html) merely have an approximate date given, but no other indication of where the image came from. The images from A Canterbury Calendar, originally from a manuscript dated to about 1280, are taken from a book published in 1984, and I’d hazard that probably no permission was given to display them online, although I might be wrong.

This is one of those areas where I find copyright law problematic. Frankly I doubt that having these images available online is going to prevent anyone who might want that book from buying it; the dozen images alone hardly comprise the information that would normally be wanted. So it’s not going to cut into sales or use of the book (the edition from which the images are drawn is out of print, in fact, although there is a revised edition in print). It’s hard to see how enforcing copyright here would encourage greater creativity. Actually I’d suspect that having the images out there on the web is what might stimulate interest and possibly new thoughts and ideas on the topic of medieval food.

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If I thought copyright was a tricky and irritating thing, coming from the perspective of an instructor, it’s much more of a potential problem when looked at from the perspective of creating an online collection, as I discovered in writing a paper on the topic.

Copyright law is lengthy, complicated, and (in my opinion at least) frequently does not actually do what it is intended for, that is, “promote the progress of science and useful arts,” as stated in article 1, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. A compilation of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 plus related and more recent acts runs to over 300 pages (http://www.copyright.gov/title17/circ92.pdf). Wading through the tortuous prose of the Act is not easy. Luckily there are various other publications which summarize certain areas of the law and discuss their applicability, like the ARL’s “Know Your Copy Rights®: Using copyrighted works in academic settings” (http://www.knowyourcopyrights.org/index.shtml).

I learned the interesting fact that copyright law in the U.S. is usually revised by having the industries involved work out the changes in the law and then give that suggested text to Congress (Dames 2006, 36). This struck me as extremely problematic; the industries, e.g. publishers, are going to have a lot more clout and stand to profit the most from changes in copyright law such as a lengthened terms of copyright, and will the actual creators of the works. It’s difficult to see how, then, creative thought is likely to be stimulated by copyright.

On the other hand, the fact that copyright is now assumed and need not be formally registered (for a price) is a plus in these days of the internet, since someone (a U.S. citizen anyhow) who places a new creative work on the internet does retain copyright to that work. They may choose to relinquish some or all of their rights, e.g. with a Creative Commons license (see http://creativecommons.org/) which allows others to use the work in defined fashion, but it’s at their choice.

What I concluded overall from the research I did was that it’s critical for any person or institution that may be setting up a digital collection to be extremely careful ahead of time in paying attention to the issue of copyright, and ensuring that either the collection’s contents are in the public domain, or that all necessary rights permissions have been secured. While an instructor in a classroom may be able to use materials on the basis of fair use, creating a permanent online collection is a very different matter.

Reference:

Dames, K. Matthew. 2006. The copyright landscape: Introducing U.S. copyright law. Online (Sept./Oct.): 35-8.

As someone trained in European, and particularly British, history rather than American history, I have used the National Archives (NA) of the UK on a number of occasions but never the Library of Congress (LoC) which is to some extent the equivalent, inasmuch as both institutions house various collections of original documents considered significant in the nation’s history, although in other respects the type of materials collected may differ quite a bit.

Both institutions have digitized some of their holdings, but their purposes and how they make these accessible can be quite different.

The Loc states, “The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its resources available and useful to Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations. The goal of the Library’s National Digital Library Program is to offer broad public access to a wide range of historical and cultural documents as a contribution to education and lifelong learning.

“The Library of Congress presents these documents as part of the record of the past. These primary historical documents reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. The Library of Congress does not endorse the views expressed in these collections, which may contain materials offensive to some readers.”

This is part of their general boilerplate for each online collection; I found it at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/sfbmhtml/sfbmhome.html, the collection of Samuel F. B. Morse’s papers at the LoC.

The overall statement of purpose for the Loc (at http://www.loc.gov/library/about-digital.html) states:

“The Library of Congress has made digitized versions of collection materials available online since 1994, concentrating on its most rare collections and those unavailable anywhere else. The following services are your gateway to a growing treasury of digitized photographs, manuscripts, maps, sound recordings, motion pictures, and books, as well as “born digital” materials such as Web sites. In addition, the Library maintains and promotes the use of digital library standards and provides online research and reference services.

“The Library provides one of the largest bodies of noncommercial high-quality content on the Internet. By providing these materials online, those who may never come to Washington can gain access to the treasures of the nation’s library. Such online access also helps preserve rare materials that may be too fragile to handle.”

As far as I could tell, the digitized collections at LoC are all freely available via the web, regardless of the location or identity of the potential user.

This is not the case with the digitized collections at the NA. There it is stated (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/about.asp): “DocumentsOnline allows you online access to The National Archives’ collection of digitised public records, including both academic and family history sources. We are committed to providing online access to the records, and DocumentsOnline forms a key part of this strategy. DocumentsOnline can be used free of charge on public access PCs at The National Archives.”

Some of the online records can be downloaded for free from other computers, but by no means all. I happen to have used records (wills) from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, several hundred of which I looked at in the originals at the archive some years back. To download a single will costs £3.50 (about $5.40 at today’s exchange rates). It would be impossible to carry out the research that I did without either very substantial funding or going to the archive and looking at documents the old-fashioned way.

One drawback to digital collections from either institution is that in neither case are they comprehensive. This is completely understandable – the total collections held are enormous, and the sheer time needed to digitize the documents (not to mention adding metadata and other necessary steps, or the costs invlved) is prohibitive. Nevertheless having even some of this national-historical information available in digitized format, even for a fee, is potentially a tremendous benefit.

Dr. Martens pointed us at this article at LibraryJournal.com: At SPARC Digital Repository Meeting, Shulenberger Calls Out AAUP, ACS. Towards the end of the article the author (Andrew Albanese) notes, “Libraries, with stretched budgets, have bought fewer monographs, and the consolidation in the bookselling market has left university presses increasingly alone to fend for their survival. It’s time, Shulenberger, urged, for all campus units, to find ways to pull in the same direction, for everyone’s common benefit.”

This makes me think that academically-oriented online collections in general, and institutional repositories in particular, need to be reconceptualized in terms of what they do and how their functions interact with and/or replace those of earlier methods of sharing information.

There are many reasons why information is shared in an academic context, but two stand out. First, because that is in a sense the entire purpose of the academy: to create and disseminate knowledge. Second, because the way that higher education is structured, the professoriate is judged primarily on the basis of such creation and its dissemination through publication.

Publication in journals or monographs is not the only way in which information can be disseminated, however. The advantages of publication have traditionally been threefold. Publication enabled information to reach more people more quickly than did personal communication (before academic journals existed, the sharing of knowledge was largely informal, and carried out through direct communication until and unless the author published a book). This advantage is now far less relevant, since it is easy to put information on the internet. Publication also fixed the information in a standard, findable, permanent form; and that is an advantage not yet always extant in online formats, though the use of repositories should improve permanency and findability. Finally, publication involves a certain amount of gatekeeping; no publisher can publish everything submitted, since there are questions of cost and also of suitability. Thus the existence of peer review, which in theory ensures that published academic works are of high quality. This is something that repositories do not assist with at the present time, since their purpose is to archive rather than to review.

It would be entirely possible to add some sort of review function to a repository, however. It need not be required for all items, but could be an option. A university press could use the same group of reviewers now called upon to evaluate submitted manuscripts (books, articles, or both) to evaluate items deposited in an institutional repository. If of suitable quality, those items could be designated as “peer reviewed” and be considered the equivalent of a formal publication, with the imprimatur of the press; authors could also have the opportunity to revise the work if reviewers felt it was not up to standard.

Substituting peer-reviewed items in digital repositories for traditional university press-published journals and monographs seems to me to be a potential way to continue disseminating new knowledge, retain quality standards, and yet not continue to need to subsidize money-losing presses. If the digitized items in the repository could also be converted into printable formats, using the Espresso Book Machine or similar technology, then it’s hard to see what losses there would be in such a shift.

Greig, Morag. 2007. Repositories and copyright: Major hurdle or minor obstacle? ALISS Quarterly 3 (1): 16-9.

In doing some research on copyright I found this article, which looks at issues of copyright connected to the institutional repository at the University of Glasgow, specifically at that part of the repository which holds published materials (unpublished materials not usually being subject to copyright problems). Authors may either self-deposit or have repository staff make the deposit; the latter is generally preferred since authors do not feel they can accurately understand publishers’ copyright agreements, and are concerned lest they break the law.

Grieg discusses the methods by which staff can determine if an article may be deposited. Often a particular version is authorized by the publisher for deposit, but it may be difficult to obtain the correct version. She notes that it is usually relatively straightforward to find out if journal articles may be deposited, but more difficult for other items such as conference papers. Books and book chapters are also difficult as the contracts between publishers and authors rarely stipulate what is permissible with respect to repositories, but some books have been placed in this repository and have been very frequently used (over 22,000 downloads in one case).

The final comment in the article is of especial interest. Grieg points out that for all the problems that can exist in getting the appropriate permissions from publishers for deposit of materials in repositories, the greatest barrier remains the authors themselves, who must make the first effort to deposit, but who often still do not see this as part of what is expected of them.

This is a subject that will be ongoing for quite a long time, I think. I’m still trying to get my head around what the settlement does, and what the implications potentially are for both libraries and individuals.

The Disruptive Library Technology Jester so far has six posts dealing with the settlement, and I have found the comments and summaries there to be quite useful.

1. Google Book Search Settlement: Introduction, Public Announcements
2. Google Book Search Settlement: Reviewing the Notice of Settlement
3. Is OCLC’s Change of WorldCat Record Use/Transfer Policy Related to the Google Book Search Agreement?
4. Google Book Search Settlement: Public Access Service
5. Preliminary Court Approval of Google Book Settlement; Final Approval Hearing Set
6. Google Book Search Settlement and Library Consortia

What does seem clear to me so far is that any library that might wish to make use of the materials digitized by Google and its partners is going to have to read very carefully the settlement and the terms of use that Google is establishing. Libraries acting as part of consortiums may be able to get discounts in pricing.

As reported by the BBC. This time it’s the oldest known manuscript of the Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus, which has been in several pieces in different countries since its 19th-century discovery. The digital version is expected to be online in 2009, and will enable not just scholars but anyone to view the entire text together. The article indicates that a translation of the original Greek will also be available.

This brings up several issues. First, there is the fact that when historical texts like this are digitized, they are often in languages which are not familiar to many potential users. Even someone who speaks modern Greek is likely to have difficulty with a text in the fourth-century version of the language, which furthermore does not have the modern convention of space left between words. Thus although digitization does improve access, that alone is not sufficient for many.

Translations are therefore necessary in order to make these texts truly available for wide use. Then more questions are raised: Who will do the translation? Into what language(s)? Will the translations be copyrighted and who will own the copyright? For a text like the Bible, where the choice of wording for translation can have significant effects on interpretation and thereby affect religious understanding, the problem of who will translate and how is especially critical. In the case of the Codex Sinaiticus, which includes two additional books in the New Testament and which has other important textual differences from other manuscripts, this may be a major consideration.

The article doesn’t mention how the digital form will be made available – through a website, on a cd-rom, or what other means. Nor does it give any indication of image format, methods of searching/viewing, etc.; these may be things as yet in flux. It will be interesting to see how the digitization of the Codex is carried out and presented, and what effects the availability of this text has on Biblical studies and indeed on religion generally.

The Organization for Transformative Works (http://transformativeworks.org/) is a nonprofit organization created by fans to support the creating and distribution of fanfiction, fanart, and similar transformative works. The founders of OTW believe that current law does permit these sorts of works to be created and freely distributed. They have already established an online, international peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, of which the first issue came out in September 2008.

Of interest with regard to collections is that OTW is also in the process of creating open-source archive software with which to host such works. OTW itself will have a multifandom archive, and the software will be available to others to use as well. They are slightly behind on their projected timeline (they were hoping for a public launch of the archive in August 2008, and it hasn’t happened yet), doubtless due to the fact that this is original software being developed by and for OTW rather than some out-of-the-box package that might not suit the specific needs of fan creators and their works.

Copyright is always an issue to be considered in creating digital archives, and the OTW holds the position that fanworks fall into the category of “fair use.” It will be interesting to see what happens once the archive is in place and fanfiction (and eventually fanart, fanvids, etc.) is made available through it. A reconsideration of what exactly copyright protects may be in order.

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