Open Access, Rights, and Money

The Roy Rosenzweig Wikipedia article points out that historians and the history field are “deeply individualistic.” We must recognize other’s work (but not too much of it) within our own scholarship or risk all types of consequences. That is why Wikipedia is touted as this wonderful and surreal workaround. During my undergrad and masters programs I stayed away from Wikipedia like it was the plague. Nowadays people seem to be a bit more accepting, but only as a launch point for research-that is until professional historians feel a sense of obligation to contribute. I think the information created by the “collective” or “amateur” is decent enough, but some misinformation can slide through the cracks and then be propagated to a multitude of those websites that link/embed the article. I recognize the inflation of “now” topics and less than glorious prose, but I can get behind the notion that as long as people don’t take it all as comprehensive fact, any information accessibility is valuable compared to restricted access all be it higher quality scholarship. I added a small section to the US Naval Academy Wikipedia page referencing Preble Hall, but have yet to see the collective acknowledge or change the contribution.

The copyright overview in Digital History was enlightening. The work-for-hire rights seem incredibly frustrating. I feel like the individual should still have the rights but that there should be some sort of acknowledgement of the various funding entities. The specific characteristics of the digital history field interestingly enough increase the likelihood (capacity) for legal issues and offer the flexibility to change questionable space. In Lessig’s book Free Culture he says something along the lines that, “Technology means you can do amazing things easily but you can’t easily do them legally.” In other words, he recognizes technology’s potential, but so much content is barred that it is hard to not accomplish something without stepping on someone’s toes (work).


That being said, the basic justification for copyright is protecting people’s intellectual property. The process of creating that information is by no means free – everyone from the graduate student, professor, or institution has a stake in the work. As much as I would like to get behind the idea that publically funded scholarship should belong to the public, unfortunately like most things in the world, copyrights, open access and open-source comes down to money. Multiple readings touched on the need to get scholarship out of the restrictive grasps of groups like JStor, but only offered alternatives that included scholars (or more likely their institutions) fitting the bill. Which not only still leaves universities in the red, but highlights possible ethical issues by accepting less than stellar articles for decent money. I agree with Wallinsky (and others) that there needs to be a balance between the interests of authors (or the copyright owner) and public, but how to reach it alludes me. The right to know is inherent and as much as the cultural constraints Lessig lists (market, architecture, norms and laws) cause access problems, the same technology we use enforces those rights. It seems we can’t have one without the other.

In the museum world we face myriad issues by controlling culturally significant property. Visitor’s photographing displays used to be seen as a huge faux pas, but is now a welcomed way to expand the visitor experience and market the museum. Before the switch, all loan agreements had to recognize the policy shift to include approval for the natural redistribution of images. Museums can then cite quantitative proof of extended engagement based on number of posts etc. on social media.

I chose a Creative Commons License that only necessitated attribution and plugged in the museum website as the source work URL for the digital project. I was not able to figure out a way, short from creating a plugin (which I do not have the confidence or skill) for Omeka, to put my license on my project. Please let me know if you found an easier way.

One thought on “Open Access, Rights, and Money

  1. It is interesting how the architecture, norms, market, and laws constrict us so much yet we cannot go without them. What I found the most interesting about this in Lessig’s book was the way the Internet as a new form of architecture drastically changed the way these four aspects interact with one another. I don’t know about you, but as interesting as the ideas and explanations of this were, his visualizations confused me and, going back to class discussion last week, I think he would have been better of without them.

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