Accepted Paper:

Copyrighting the copies: are heritage institutions opening up or enclosing the public domain with their digitisation efforts?  


Áki Guðni Karlsson (University of Iceland)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I will discuss the digitisation efforts of heritage institutions in the wider context of the globalisation of intellectual property, and ask whether our heritage is really in the public domain as it is often purported to be.

Paper long abstract:

While discussing arguments made by developing countries and indigenous groups at the World Intellectual Property Organisation for a legal instrument providing exclusive rights for the use of "traditional cultural expressions", at one point the legal experts representing the developed world chose to emphasise the importance of the "public domain", where most of these expressions currently are believed to reside. It would be detrimental to the creation of new works, they argued, if this were to be reduced by granting exclusive rights to communities or nations for the use of their heritage. Based on this argument I want to ask if the public domain in developed countries is really as free as we purport it to be. Considering how recent large-scale digitisation efforts of heritage institutions in the West have been conducted, and how their products tend to be licensed online as "open access" only, prohibiting any form of reuse, we could describe these as staking a claim on the public domain and thus, indeed, affecting the creation of new works. While there are certainly many perfectly valid arguments to justify their course of action, there are ethical considerations to be taken into account as well. In my paper I will discuss these arguments and place them in the wider context of the global spread of the intellectual property regime and local reactions to it.

Panel P42
The digital re-mediation of cultural heritage