From 19th to 25th of this October has been the 8th International Open Access Week. How appropriate it was that I attended that very week an advanced training event on legal issues related to research data by Thomas Hartmann. As he has a lot of information about this topic on his website I will not go into complicated legal details (and the German copyright law or “Urheberrecht” is complicated indeed!), but rather share some musings which role copyright issues and restrictive regulations have played for me personally and why open licenses would make things easier.
Case one: Pictures of interesting details in manuscripts
Many libraries nowadays allow researchers to take pictures of their manuscripts. This is really great as it saves a lot of money (and sometimes time). However, you are not always allowed to do with the pictures what you want, which means that you can take pictures and study them yourself, but you cannot use them for publications or (legally) share them with colleagues.
For example, some time ago I remarked some interesting features in manuscripts owned by the Bodleian Library about which I would have loved to blog and post some pictures to make clear what I am talking about. However this permission could not be granted by the Bodleian Library according to the library’s rules. One of the librarians wrote me a very kind e-mail upon my request for permission and honestly regretted that it had to be a NO. But a no is a no, so at the moment I can only show theses pictures to colleagues or students, and display them in Powerpoint presentations, but I can not supply copies whether in electronic or hardcopy form.
As these pictures are “my research data” and I have to keep these data “secret”, I am not exaggerating by claiming that these restrictions can delay scientific progress. And I know that I am not the only one who is dealing with these kind of problems.
Case two: Pictures of medieval art
When I give presentations about my research, I often try to visualize to my audience my quite abstract research topics like heaven, hell and purgatory and how people in the Middle Ages thought about them by using medieval art. The same goes for articles. However, it is not easy to find fitting material. There are two obstacles.
1) finding a fitting picture. This often not so easy as ideally the medieval art object has to be from around the same period and cultural background. I remember strongly a “lecture” from an art historian after a presentation I gave during the first year of my PhD that otherwise the pictures are mere “illustrations”.
2) finding a fitting picture that comes with an open license. This is even worse as you can imagine because the pictures of medieval art objects, let it be miniatures, paintings or sculptures are often copyrighted by the institutions that own them. Often you would have to pay fees to be able to use these pictures for publications. Of course there are some great resources like Europeana where content with CC licenses can be found, but often the pictures available do not really fit and the ones you really would like to use do not have a CC license. I really wish that more cultural institutions would make their collections not only available online but available online with CC licenses, for example with a CC-BY license.
Case three: Music
I have recently made a short movie from material I had filmed during my last trip to Burkina Faso and I wanted to share it via social media. As a clip gets so much more interesting with some nice music, I wanted to add music of which I could be sure that I can use it without infringing any copyright. Googling “copyright free music” brought me to the page Creative Commons Music Communities, a great starting point to find music with free licenses. I finally found what I was looking for in the Free Music Archive! So I could download a nice song, use the automatically created license information and add the music and the license information to my little clip. I wish everything was so easy!
Because the clip is a bit amateurish and it seems to impossible to upload mp4-files to Word Press, I decided to rather post a picture from my trip.
The picture shows the Parliament building of Burkina Faso which was burnt down during the revolution in October 2014. Here is a link to a news item about the event.
These are of course three personal cases, but I felt like sharing them as for humanities scholars copyright issues play a huge role, especially in Digital Humanities research and also in the case of long term archiving, but that is another story… What do you think?