This week’s readings and viewings brought into focus two polarities of our current age: increased copyright protection, on the one hand, and the increased open access facilitated by digital technology, on the other. These polarities are, of course, continuations on debates over intellectual property that have raged for centuries, but the advent of digital technology, with increased ease in copying, has brought these issues all the more to the fore.
These debates have strong ramifications for public history and history education in the digital age. History has always been about remixing–typically in a textual way. We remix pieces of text to tell stories and analyze the past. We use images both as primary sources and as ways to illustrate our points. But as we increasingly share not just our interpretations but our sources, and as we repackage those sources, we increasingly run up against copyright restrictions.
As the articles and viewings point out, copyright is a labyrinth; as this article notes, even for something as simple as “Happy Birthday.” Having worked on museum exhibitions and prepared other public materials in print and online, I find myself constantly afraid of unintentionally violating copyright. From what I can tell, I’m far from the only one. At the same time, too often museums are trying to assert copyright where it doesn’t exist.
One of the dangers of this culture of fear is that historians will be afraid to use certain materials, particularly from much of the 20th century. A tweet I saw last year even suggested that some who might otherwise study the 20th century would instead study the 19th. Concerns like those expressed in the Google Books case, in particular, means that much cultural production of the 20th century–including many books–will remain hard to find in a time where the costs and ability to make them available have greatly changed.
For history educators, copyright restrictions can be particularly frustrating, as exemplified by the Georgia State and UCLA cases. As someone who leans toward the open access side of things, I found the Georgia State case particularly disturbing. A university publisher, yes, needs to pay its bills–something presses are increasingly having difficulty doing. But the fact that Oxford University Press sued Georgia State over course readers–particularly those distributed only to classes–seems to me contrary to the mission of the press’s parent institution. As the commentators on Digital Campus pointed out, the paucity of words allowed under the court’s restrictive fair use guidelines (much more stringent than how the fair use doctrine is typically interpreted) would make professors not use many of these materials. The economic implications of the case for students already struggling to pay tuition is even worse.
As other commentators point out, as well, we live in an age where we can make educational materials all the more open–not just for students in our classes but to the world at large. We have the ability to deliver content in more portable, less expensive ways–to fulfill the missions of universities and public history institutions to disseminate knowledge. As previous weeks’ readings and viewings have made clear, the lecture-and-textbook method of teaching history is not the most effective anyway. If we were able to make more resources available to our students and to the public at large, the world would be all the richer for it.
5 Comments to Readings: Copyright and Open Learning
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- Copyright & Fair Use
- Data Visualization
- Digital Humanities & Future Higher Ed
- Digital Story: Future of DH
- Games & Learning
- Google Art Project
- Google Maps
- History Education Game
- Interactive Story
- Narrative & Digital Storytelling
- Presenting History
- Publishing & Scholarly Communication
- Research in the Digital Age
- Scavenger Hunt
- Social Media
- Social Media Museum/Archive
- Story in 5 Photos
- Teaching & Learning
- Teaching & Learning Activity
- Visual Representation
- Website Review
- Wikipedia Article