What kind of music did the Pilgrims like? Plymouth Rock: Digital Collections, Copyright, and Intellectual Property

I have never given much thought to copyright and the laws that surround it. That’s not to say that I am unaware it exists, it just has never been something that I actively thought about. In doing some readings, I’ve learned that:

  1. The first copyright laws came from Connecticut in 1783
  2. Copyright automatically applies to almost anything people create, starting in 1976 with the creation of the Copyright Act.
  3. Starting in 1989, it is no longer necessary to place a copyright notice on your work.
  4. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) bans tampering with copyright protection and basically limits how we use digital products even after we purchase them.

However the main thing I learned is that copyright can get very complicated. It was compared to history at one point, making the case that it is subject to confliction interpretations. Copyright law faces contention between those who protect the rights of the owners of intellectual property versus those seeking to enlarge the public domain.

Which brings us to a question raised by Roy Rosenzweig: Should scholarship be free? In his article, “Should Historical Scholarship Be Free,” he mentions how scientific journals are able to make their peer-reviewed journals free to everyone but history has not been able to do that yet. Unless someone is a college student, they are limited in their access to historical materials; Rosenzweig writes “Professional historians routinely complain that their students and neighbors pick up “junk” on the Internet but they don’t adequately consider that the best online scholarship is often only available to paying subscribers.” He also provides six possible approaches that could help make this happen: Self-archiving, author charges, delayed access, partial access, electronic-only journals, and cooperation with libraries.

If you were to ask me, I don’t have a good answer for you yet. I mean, ideally, and in a perfect world, of course I want scholarship to be free. I think everybody has a right to an education and should have access to materials to research what they want. But we don’t live in a perfect world. There is so much that goes into writing and publishing scholarship that options must be weighed and there needs to be a plan. I haven’t been presented with a solution that makes me think that this is entirely possible with where we are at but I think that with problem solving and time, future generations will have more access to scholarly works than we do currently.

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