S.8 Copyright and archives: The past and future of law and digitization

Kyle Courtney and Emily Kilcer from Harvard shared their thoughts about copyright and digitization in a compelling session. The central theme seemed to be mitigating risk.

Most interesting was the discussion about transformative works, or when you create a new purpose and message, which differentiates the original work from the one you’ve created. They shared several projects where by adding text and context for a postcard collection, or political buttons, archivists have been able to stretch copyright using the transformative works concept as a foundation.

Most compelling was their explanation of Deborah Gerhardt’s work. She is a Professor of Law at UNC, who argues in a recent article that works created between 1923 and 1978 should be considered in the public domain in cases where no copyright has been asserted, the object is in a library or archives, and that institution claims no copyright. Both Kyle and Emily stressed that the creator’s original intention should be considered when deciding to publish the work. They urged us to consider what the process of publishing really means. Displaying an object, is not the same as publishing the work. 

Kyle also shared how at Harvard they’re thinking about additional ways of digitizing and working with orphan works. He used the example of EMTs treating an unconscious patient. If there’s no one available to consent, EMTs practice regardless.

How might you stretch copyright at your institution? Similar to Harvard, we, at the University of Rochester, have used a “take down notice” for our AIDS Education Psters collection, which is all available online.

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