There are many potential pitfalls for historians working with digital media. One that I could see myself falling into is downloading or sharing content that I did not realize was copyrighted. Many of this weeks readings mention Mp3s and the accessibility of this media. Despite copyright laws it is easy to download these files and share them as you wish. It has become increasingly easier to download, share and manipulate other files and media as well. Historians need to make themselves aware of copyright laws. While the accessibility of certain types of media may make them seem free for the taking, this is not the case. Historians can get themselves into trouble even if they did not know they were doing something wrong.  This problem goes the other way as well. Historians may not be aware of how to copyright their work, or that they even need to. They need to educate themselves on cheap copyright license services such as Creative Commons. This ensures that their work is protected and cannot be plagiarized.

The same must be said of institutions such as museums and archives. While individual historians may be able to slip under the raider with understanding copyright, museums and archives may not have this anonymity, especially if they are large institutions. While individual historians may not have the budget or resources to hire a lawyer or pay for copyright, large institutions do not have this excuse. Large institutions need to be hyper aware of copyright law and what they can do to avoid any type of violation. These large institutions are also at a great risk of being plagiarized. They need to decide what type of content is available for visitors and researchers to share or download. They also need to prioritize if or how they monitor this. If these large institutions work with outside companies or partner museums and archives, they need to know the policies of these other organizations regarding the sharing of information with visitors.

The key for everybody, whether an individual historian or an institution, is awareness. While historians may by super focused on their research and their area of expertise, they may not be aware of copyright laws. While large institutions have the means for lawyers who can take care of copyright issues and allow historians and researchers to focus on history and research, smaller institutions may face the same problems as individual historians. The internet has made it easier to access files and resources and arguably make it easier to violate copyright, the internet has also make it easier to find information about copyright laws. Small budgets may make it harder for individual historians and small institutions to gain access to copyrighted material, there are new resources that allow people to understand and potentially avoid these issues. Historians must also know how to protect their work, for which the internet also has resources.

One thought on “Copyright

  1. Many of the concerns you list – being able to easily download and manipulate data from museum websites and other resources – reminds me of discussions we had early on in the semester about digital forgery and tracking down the original version of born digital media. Copyright is not only important for the institution but for the validity of their collections and dissemination of truth in history.

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