D. Des Chene (goclenius) wrote,
D. Des Chene

Images at the NYPL: Look but don’t touch

The New York Public Library has a digital gallery containing thousands of images. Historians of science will be most interested in the Nature and Science section. I haven’t included any thumbnails because their permissions statement seems to forbid my doing so. Not only that, but even if I bought licenses I’d have to remember to take down the images after the licenses expired.
New York Public Library, Photographic Services and Permissions, FAQ, User Fee Schedule
The Library justifies the fees ($30 and up per image for personal use, e.g. in the classroom; putting an image on this page would cost $75 for one year) on the grounds that the fees enable it to “acquire, preserve and provide access to the accumulated knowledge of the world”. It does cost money to do those things; user fees are one way to cover those costs. If the site didn’t exist, I would have to go to New York to see them. Shouldn’t I be glad I’m saving money?
Scholarship and the arts, however, depend on more than looking: the scholar must be able to quote or exhibit the items written about, at least in part; artists have long been accustomed to incorporating material from other works into their own. Dozens of masses were composed on the melody “L’Homme armé” during the Renaissance. The Dadaists incorporated bits of newspaper and advertising into their works, as did Pop artists forty years later. Some of those uses could, in principle, be defended, but the mere fact that copyright owners might sue may be enough to discourage artists (or the corporations that publish their work) from doing what would otherwise come naturally. (A Cincinnati court ruled last year that even a three-note sample, pitch-shifted and looped so as to be unrecognizable, violates copyright: see the Billboard and Stay Free! items below.)
“Digital rights management”, as it’s called, and intellectual property protection generally have become more and more restrictive, and at times unworkable—effectively making artworks unpublishable. In an earlier post, “Real-World Æsthetics”, I noted that the motivation is not “nurturing artists” or any real concern for the arts. It’s money. Money and control.
Downhill Battle, Eyes on the Screen organized private screenings of Eyes on the Prize on 5 Feb this year
An example: Eyes on the Prize, an important documentary on the civil rights movement, cannot be exhibited because the images and clips in the film are entangled in restrictions. Including a scene in which people sing “Happy Birthday” requires permission and payment of fees to the copyright holders. It is estimated that obtaining all the clearances needed to broadcast the film will cost $500,000. Broadcasts in general demand indemnification against copyright violations before they will broadcast a work; it’s the creator’s problem to establish that permissions have been obtained and fees paid.
Aalok Mehta, “ACS Takes Legal Action Against Google”, Chemical & Engineering News, 10 Dec 2004
You’re not a filmmaker? You’re just a philosopher who depends only on introspection? Then how about this: the American Chemical Society is suing Google on the grounds that Google’s use of the word ‘scholar’ infringes on trademarks owned by the ACS in connection with “SciFinder Scholar”, a search engine for Chemical Abstracts databases.
“The field of scientific research and related services is, of course, open to all,” said Flint Lewis, ACS’s secretary and general counsel […]. “But when someone uses a trademark similar to ours, we have no choice but to take action—to protect the goodwill that we have built over the years and to prevent the likelihood of confusion in the marketplace.”
So much for disinterest. Of the many ironies here, one is that scientists themselves have begun to subvert the present system of academic publishing, in which a few companies (Elsevier, for example) now own most of the major scholarly journals in the world, and have charged increasingly exorbitant prices for them. Libraries must devote more and more of their funds to serials. Monographs bear the brunt of the cost-cutting. You may say: won’t the Internet take distribution out of the hands of the oligopolies? Only if its autonomy is protected (so that anyone may, at small expense, publish and be accessible to everyone), and only if electronic journals distributed for free or at low cost are treated on a par with print journals in tenure decisions and the like.
Of interest
LEONARD, Andrew. “Eyes on your copyrighted prize”. Salon 5 Jan 2005 (this may be for subscribers only).
DEAN, Katie. “Bleary days for eyes on the prize”. Wired 22 Dec 2004.
Arts Project, Duke Law School. —Includes video excerpts from a panel on intellectual property and the arts.
Reclaim the Media has a running list of news on copyright issues.
Negativland, a well-known group of musicians whose work relies on sampling (and who have had to go to court to protect their fair use rights) has a subsite on intellectual property.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation tracks issues in intellectual property and digital rights management.
DocBug (Bradley Rhodes).
Copyfight is the IP portion of Corante, a collaborative weblog on technology. I wish they’d get rid of the stupid blinks.
JECKELL, Barry A. “Court To Hip-Hop Nation: No Free Samples”. Billboard 8 Sep 2004.
Tags: drm access history_of_science
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