This weeks readings brought in an issue that touches on much of what we’ve dealt with this semester but that we have not yet addressed. For all the talk of digital media “democratizing” history, the expanded access that pushes this democratization requires the navigation of copyright law. While print historians are largely familiar with the concept of “fair use” without, in many cases, even being familiar with the term, digitization brings in additional concerns, as it does in many other areas. The ability of digital media to rapidly include vast amounts of documents and other media that creates much more copyright concerns than that dealt with by print historians.
The most interesting aspect of this weeks readings, for me, was the section of the embargoing of dissertations. Trevor Owens and Rebecca Anne Goetz raise some very good points about the issues of the AHA statement, and the general benefits of open access. Their articles were especially convincing on the larger issue of tying academic standing to the requirements of for profit press and limiting the focus of academia to scholarly monographs. Despite the strong arguments of Owens and Goetz, and the fact that I think the benefits of embargo vs. open access are still very undecided, it should be noted that the AHA statement does not disavow or call for the elimination of open access, it simply calls for the decision of embargo or open access to be made by the dissertation’s author rather than a unilateral decision by the university. This seems like a rather reasonable request, one that it is hard to argue against even if you believe in open access.
Finally, I thought the Creative Commons Licenses were an intriguing compromise between copyright and open access, although it would be interesting to see some evaluations of its usefulness outside of its own commercial website.