Copyright, Education, Access and "Other" Media

In the CLIR report “Why Digitize?” (1999), Abby Smith suggests that digitization offered great potential for increasing the access to hard-to-find collections or fragile collections. There are, as she notes, some major problems:

The notion on the part of many young students that, if it is not on the Web or in an online catalog, then it must not exist, has the effect of orphaning the vast majority of information resources, especially those that are not in the public domain. This is not what the Framers had in mind when they wrote the copyright code into the Constitution, “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” This skewed representation of created works on the Web will continue for quite some time into the future, and the complications that surround moving image and recorded sound rights means, ironically, that these will be the least accessible resources on the most dynamic information source around.

This points to a fundamental tension that complicates the existence and use of audiovisual materials in many museum and archival collections: copyright and access. If the purpose of copyright was to promote innovation and progress, then copyright certainly isn’t doing its job anymore but serving the purposes of corporations and profit. There’s currently an important review of copyright going on, which will affect audiovisual materials in the U.S., particularly the access of copyrighted recordings held in research collections.

The Society for Ethnomusicology just released a position statement regarding copyright. You can learn more by reading the statement (click to link).


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