Notes from Discussion on Copyright/Open Access/Fair Use

I think Monday’s discussion on Copyright/Open Access/Fair Use went rather well considering that the topic is very nuanced, especially when dealing with digital history. The discussion on the embargoing of dissertations wasn’t as vociferous as I had anticipated, but maybe my expectations were based upon the strong criticism that followed the AHA’s statement on the subject on various blogs and comment sections. Our class discussion was much more milder, although several good points were made.

It appears that the AHA Statement was a sounding board for historians to express their opinions on issues that are much larger than the actual statement. The issue of embargoing dissertations isn’t the problem – the problem is that the field in general has been slow to adapt to the digital world. This is evidenced by their lack of ability to establish set criteria for promotion and tenure for digital historians, which is also true for public historians. The AHA seems happy to stand by the book as the end-all be-all for Phd students after they complete their dissertation, but the AHA and universities can’t seem to break free of the printed final copy. This poses problems for digital historians who would be more likely to create something digitally than in traditional print format.

We did talk about Open Access models and how historians and other academic writers have been writing for free forever, and Open Access doesn’t really change that. In the author pays model of OA, academics are even asked to pay to publish. Compared to the sciences, the number of Open Access journals in the humanities is drastically low. A change in the overall system needs to happen in order for OA journals in the humanities to grow.

Overall, the discussion touched on many valid points that were culled from the week’s readings. I think some of our questions could have been rephrased or re-worded, as we didn’t get through all of them. We missed out on talking about the consequences of not being familiar with fair use in the art world, especially with art historians. The topic of copyright and fair use is complicated, but the more we know about it, the more confident we can be about what is acceptable to use in our digital projects.

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