Copyright takes the Cake

Copyright is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma to me – and yet I know I should try to understand it, because for any historian, access to sources – documents, pictures, other media generally – forms the basis of what we do.

I struggle constantly with the issue of copyright in my blog, since there is a question over any picture I pull from the web to put in a post. My personal compromise is to link the picture back to its original source on the web. That means – where I can – finding the library or art gallery it comes from, rather than just somebody else’s blog post. I’m not sure if this is an adequate safeguard, but since my blog only reaches a few hundred people, and makes no money, there’s probably no harm done. In a book, though, it’s not possible to salve a guilty conscience with a hyperlink.

Any author knows the nightmare of tracking down copyright owners to get their permission to publish images, or permission to use documents which are not in the public domain.

Many years ago, a friend of mine wrote a thesis on the history of a union. Both the friend and the union had better remain unnamed. He had the full cooperation of the union executive throughout his research – until shortly before he was due to submit his PhD, the executive of the union changed, and withdrew its permission. He spent a thoroughly miserable few months removing great chunks of quotations from his work. It was still a good thesis, but a shadow of its former self – as, indeed, was he for a while there.

The problem is worst with manuscripts, where copyright lasts forever. Now that digitization of printed sources has transformed so much research – Trove, I love you – libraries want to move on to digitize manuscript materials as well. There are already some wonderful digitized collections, often cooperative efforts such as the Darwin Correspondence Project and the Papers of Sir Joseph Banks, others more modest such as the University of Otago’s Samuel Marsden Online Archive. The Mitchell Library has just embarked on a project to digitize the Macarthur Papers.

googled images of handwritten recipes

I Googled ‘handwritten recipes’, planning to pull something suitable from the web – but then decided the whole page looks so pretty, I took a screenshot instead. This, I think, makes ME the copyright owner. The system’s crazy.

But the basic issue of manuscript copyright is holding others back. Under current legislation, even old recipe books are copyright. FAIR (Freedom of Access to Information and Resources) has come up with a unique way to lobby for a change to copyright law. Next Friday, 31 July, is Copyright Day. Anyone concerned about copyright laws is encouraged to find a recipe, cook it, and post a photo of the dish and the manuscript recipe it is based on with the hashtag #cookingforcopyright on Twitter or on FaceBook here

Unfortunately most of my grandmother’s recipes are for cakes and puddings. This may be an unhealthy weekend coming up.

7 responses to “Copyright takes the Cake

  1. My biggest beef is with people who put photographs online, particularly on Flickr Commons, then designate them All Rights Reserved. If you don’t want people to use your wonderful work, for heaven’s sake don’t post it. Most people won’t bother to go to the trouble of seeking the rights so your photo appearing online marked ARR does nothing other than boost your own ego. There, that feels better …

  2. Reblogged this on History Mine and commented:
    Cooking for Copyright? Sounds awesome!

  3. I LOVE this initiative! I collect old postcards and letters and some of the content is fascinating.
    David, as a designer in the publishing industry I can say without a doubt that we often use images posted on Flickr legally and pay reproduction fees to the contributors. Many permissions coordinaters and picture researchers also use Flickr regularly. It’s used in a similar way to a stock library. Just because something is online does not make it free for everyone to use. Some people do actually do the right thing. Watermarking images or including copyright lines is not just ego boosting but a way that means people can trace the image back to it’s original source if shared around the internet without links by way of social media like Facebook. Food for thought anyway…

    • Thanks Lules, it’s good to know that some people do the right thing. I suppose the issue is – for how long should the creator be paid for reproduction rights? 2 years or 20 or 200?

      I sympathize with you too, David, although I’m a bit conflicted here, since I suppose my blog is the equivalent of somebody posting photos for the public to see. I’m happy to see my words re-blogged, or otherwise used, AS LONG AS they are acknowledged (thank you Ross!). It makes the idea of the Creative Commons so important – but impossible to police. And we do need a statute of limitations on copyright so that pre-Internet materials can be copied and out on the web.

  4. Interesting points and HH wishes it had the time and resources to chase down permissions. Volunteer-run websites catering to raised expectations don’t have such luxuries.

  5. The intellectual property of photographers is probably the most infinged of all creators on the internet. When I started my blog I decided that I would take a great deal of care to respect the copyright of photographers. I either use out of copyright images, creative commons licensed work or I use my own photos. I take my small camera most places and have now built up a photo bank to draw upon for my blog.

    I had no idea that the copyright on manuscripts lasts forever! We know that copyright laws are in need of a major overhaul but this takes the cake 🙂

  6. I also have a reasonable collection of my own photos, and use them when I can, but there’s a difference between a photo to illustrate an argument (like the one above) and a picture that is part of the argument. Portraits are one example.

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