It’s been a…very busy week.
I mean, it’s entirely my own fault. That’s what you get when you plan too many things for the same weekend. Note to self: do not schedule a trip to northern Pennsylvania and a 5k at Mount Vernon within a day of each other ever again.
But if I had to be busy, I’m glad it was this week—solely because we got to discuss a topic I’m very much interested in as well as experiment with a software I intend to use repeatedly. First, copyright and open access.
I’ve always been familiar with copyright on some level, mostly because of my experiences in content creation and event planning. As an undergraduate, I was highly involved in our Student Government Association, which primarily worked with club funding and management. Consequently, every time a club wanted to host a movie night or show any sort of feature, SGA would grant funds for the rights to show the film. Because of this, I became vary familiar with the legal ins and outs of the differences between owning a film and being able to show a film to an audience in a university setting. The price of purchasing the rights to show a film varied depending on the age, length, and content of the film (fun fact: it’s about $525 to show Jurassic Park and about $1,000 to show Titanic for one night). I remember being initially confused as to why we couldn’t just show a video if it was posted on YouTube or if we had access to Netflix, and even more confused at the hoops we had to jump through depending on whether we were renting a DVD to show or if we were streaming it.
Thus we see the origins of my reflex headache when it comes to copyright. It certainly does not help that copyright law has not exactly aged well. One of the questions for our small group discussion this week was, “Are copyright and publishing fundamentally broken?” The short answer: um, yes. Copyright and publishing as a system were designed in an age before the internet and, more importantly, the sheer accessibility it offers. When the internet did come around, copyright law did not evolve to accommodate it accordingly. Now, it exists as a virtual nightmare regarding access to information and is holding back advances in many fields. Publishers are too interested in the financial aspects of royalties and copyright to consider alternative solutions, and scholars are still too entranced with the idea of journalistic prestige and traditional publishing standards in higher academia to push for something different. Which brings us to the topic of open access. My viewpoint on this is relatively straightforward: the goal of research is to share knowledge, and to share knowledge is to become the foundation of more research. I don’t believe it’s scholars and researchers standing in the way of this (or librarians, for that matter), but rather the journals and publishing houses of the academic world. Like we’ve discussed before, academia of the history variety, especially, is pretty well-steeped in prestige and the name game. Journals and publishers are able to feed off of this; honestly, it’s these constructs that keeps journals and other publishing houses in business right now. If I think about the sheer amount of money changing hands in regard to academic publishing, it raises my blood pressure. But then again, I tend to forget that higher education is too much of a business right now.
Aside from such stimulating conversations, the technical exercise this week was to experiment with the Omeka platform. As someone who is not only interesting in digital exhibitions personally but also as part of a group project considering the platform, messing around making test exhibits was eye-opening. Omeka is a decently powerful platform that is really easy to pick up and utilize—Emily and I had absolutely no problem. It was pretty refreshing. And as I just so happened to have a bunch of photos of short-eared owls, you can imagine what our exhibit and collection ended up being about: https://omekatest.hayleymadl.com/. Hopefully, my group can come up with a creative way to utilize Omeka for our semester project. The possibilities are pretty endless.
(Also, disclaimer: I’ve only ever seen one or two episodes of The Office but I really couldn’t resist the title)