Copyright and barriers to learning

On the ABTAPL list I receive a list of copyright events from Graham Cornish’ Copyright Circle. Most of the items indicate the endless encroachment of lawyers on access to learning.  But in the current list there are two entries which indicate a contrary trend.  

V&A to scrap academic reproduction fees.   By Martin Bailey
In a move which could transform art publishing, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) is to drop charges for the reproduction of images in scholarly books and magazines….The new scheme will come into effect early next year. The V&A is believed to be the first museum anywhere in the world which is to offer images free of copyright and administrative charges. It also intends to take a “liberal” view on what should be deemed scholarly or educational…. The decision to end charging could well have major implications on art publishing since there will be pressure on other UK museums to follow suit.
The Art Newspaper 01/12/06

Model Copyright Agreement – Journals
JISC and SURF have published a model agreement that will help authors make appropriate arrangements with publishers for the publication of a journal article. The main features of the licence are that copyright in the published work remains with the author and the author grants the publisher a licence to publish the work. The new model agreement will be particularly useful where articles are published in the traditional way, with publications being made available only to subscribers. Further information at (14/11/06)
JISC-Legal Newsletter No. 21, November 2006

Most state-funded libraries have fought tooth and nail to keep their content off-line.  Recently Karlsruhe went so far as to refuse to allow volunteers to photograph manuscripts which they believed they would have to sell!  I received considerable abuse for even suggesting it.  The poverty of the British Library site is only matched by the crude refusal to photograph material other than at vast profit, as again I have experienced.  The Beinecke Rare Books library tried to charge me $216 for 14 digital photographs, when I wanted a photocopy of 14 pages of a 20th century handwritten translation. 

All kudos, then, to the V&A for getting into the internet age.  Most of what they have in mind has negligible commercial value.  But items that can be seen online can be studied by billions of people who could never visit the museum itself.  As the article rightly suggests, this will put pressure on the obscurantists.  Similar kudos are deserved by the National Archives in Britain, which has initiated a scheme whereby readers can register their digital cameras and then use them to take copies.  (I did suggest that the NA should keep copies of those, but this obvious step to create an archive was a bit further than the staff could envisage).

The second item likewise must benefit everyone.  Journals have taken pains to keep material offline, away from the public, and only available to major subscription-paying libraries.  Of course this means that the taxpayer who funds it all can’t see it, even though it is perfectly possible and free technologically.  As academics retain their own copyright, material will become available to a wider audience. 

There are academics who don’t care whether anyone sees their work.  I remember an email exchange with a translator of one of Origen’s works who was sublimely indifferent to the fact that his translation was printed in an edition of around 200 copies, all available only in a handful of institutions, and which would never appear online or be accessible to those who pay his salary until 130 years time.  But most are pleased to learn that the people value their work, and want to learn from it.  These real scholars are the ones on whom the Republic of Letters relies, and they will now be free to teach a wider audience.


Learning Syriac — first session

As I mentioned earlier, I am trying to learn Syriac.  A week ago I went down to London, and 5 of us had a day of intensive tuition.  It was interesting that several had bought the grammars, but had been quite unable to get into them.  We were taught how to form and transliterate the Serto letters — something that all the books do very badly indeed –, with the vowel-system of Jacob of Edessa, and given some homework.  In the afternoon the mysteries of Syriac nouns and adjectives were laid out.  My general impression is that the language is not complicated, and that the poor quality of the books is actually the main obstacle.  The homework so far has really succeeded in teaching me the serto alphabet — much more easily than my struggles to learn the simpler estrangelo alphabet by myself.

Monumenta Germanica Historica online

I have just discovered that someone has scanned a lot of the volumes of the MGH and placed them online.  You can find them here.  Sadly they have not made whole volumes downloadable (why not?).  Among other things, the Chronography of 354 is there.