Sophie Kembrey concludes our three part series on copyright and the ARA Core Training Course
The Copyright Debate
My name is Sophie and I work at Stockport Local Heritage Library as a Library and Archives Trainee. My traineeship is part of the Skills for the Future Programme and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
As part of my training, last month I had the opportunity to attend an ARA Copyright Course, at The Sheffield Showroom. Although I had only been in post for four weeks, I had already noticed that copyright is somewhat of a grey area. With many of the public wanting to copy various sections of maps and frequently photographs, I was looking forward to getting some clarity.
The Work Station, Sheffield
Meeting people from all over the North West region, who had also been faced with various copyright dilemmas, I was reassured to find that I wasn’t alone in my confusion. Copyright legislation is so complex that the first speaker of the day, Tim Padfield, has written five books on the topic, with the aim of interpreting the law for libraries, archives and information services.
Tim explained that essentially copyright is a property right, but an intangible one. Copy meaning intellectual material, be that artistic, literary, dramatic or musical. He rather nicely described the author of the copy as, “the inventive or master mind”, which means that, even though we might not realise it, we all have files in copyright. Those holiday snaps you took, you own the copyright!
A quick search offers me countless examples of copyright infringements, supporting Tim’s advice to proceed with caution, from Apple’s fights with Google and Microsoft, to Star Wars vs Battlestar Galactica and the use of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give it Up’ in controversial song ‘Blurred Lines’. But whilst laws exist to protect the author, they can also harm the treatment of their legacy.
Tim spoke of the case of Romantic poet John Clare, who sadly spent the majority of his life confined in an asylum, before his death in 1864. To the dismay of many scholars, Eric Robinson claimed to own the copyright of Clare’s unpublished works, ensuring the dominance of one editing style for decades. In 1999, Clare scholar Simon Kovesi challenged copyright legislation by publishing a selection of Clare love poems.
At Stockport Heritage Library copyright problems are also ever present and usually revolve around photocopies of images for research and commercial use. Images that are in copyright are marked with a red dot. In line with regulations, we display CILIP’s posters close to the photocopier, which remind the public of infringement.
If an item is in copyright, the donations register is consulted to see if the holder is contactable. For example, many photographs in the collection belong to newspapers, The Stockport Advertiser and Stockport Express.
Such is the complexity of copyright, even the more experienced staff refer to a handy flowchart, created by Tim, which details copyright duration. We treat each case individually and are upfront about the cost of reproductions. Each week I’m learning something new.
The Photograph Collection at Stockport Heritage Library
The demand for copies and photographs of archival documents in Stockport seems to echo a shift in the way in which people use archival material. People want to consume, own and interact with material: the read only culture is no longer.
Just last week I was at Manchester Central Library and visited the new Archives+, a space which responds to people’s changing tastes, offering a touch screen virtual archive and many interactive displays. The rise in technologies like Google Glass (which seems to be all the rage at the moment) testify to a desire to participate.
Photography critic, Jorg M Colberg, discusses the idea of ‘compulsive looking’, and writes:
The act of photographing, the gesture, has become part of our interaction with the world. You photograph just like you look.
Currently copyright legislation just does not account for the emphasis the public place on interaction. The last revision was set in 1995. Twenty years on perhaps it’s about time for another look.
During the course, there were two key phrases that stood out to me, ‘Orphan Works’, works that have an unknown author and ‘due diligence’. If a museum, archive/library wants to display an image and it is still in copyright, it can only be used if a ‘diligent’ search for copyright holders has been carried out.
The vagueness of ‘due diligence’ means using documents in copyright can be a risky and of course time-consuming business – who knows who might crawl out of the woodwork?
At the moment, the duration of copyright in certain unpublished works is to the end of 2039, regardless of the age of the work. Some Archivists, Tim included, feel that the term of copyright protection in unpublished texts should be changed to the author’s lifetime, plus 70 years.
The ‘Free Our History’ campaign aims to bring an end to what is being referred to as ‘Catch 2039’, through encouraging museums, archives and libraries to display a blank sign with a caption like the following:
We would have liked to show you a letter from a First World War soldier here. But due to current copyright laws we are unable to display the original. Those laws mean that some of the most powerful diaries and letters in our collections cannot be displayed.
Providing access to archives is increasingly important for their survival and it seems problematic that, when many archives consist largely of orphan works, with untraceable rights holders, these works remain largely locked away in basements, until 2039.
So what, I hear you ask, can be done? At Stockport Heritage library where possible everything accepted into the collection has the copyrights handed over at the point of donation, to prevent problems of untraceable rights holders arising in the future.
Copyright legislation already has an abundance of exceptions, so maybe more could be done for archives and museums under the educational exception, to permit copies of maps and images for research purposes. At present, copyrighted archives and the need to allow people access to the past are still very much in opposition.
I look forward to the apocalyptic-sounding end of 2039, when a lot will change in the world of copyright, that’s if the ‘Free Our History’ campaign haven’t got there first! For now, I will definitely still be referring to Tim’s helpful flowcharts.