deep access to digitised cultural heritage material

Repeated here from the Humanist list by permission of the poster, Mats Dahlström (and note that the Classical Text Services protocol being developed principally by Neel Smith and Christopher Blackwell under the aegis of the Center for Hellenic Studies addresses this very issue of creative adaptation and reuse):

In his “Deep Sharing: A Case for the Federated Digital Library“, EDUCAUSE Review, 38(4) (July-August 2003), p 10-11, David Seaman pleaded for repositories of digitised cultural heritage material,

from which libraries can draw files into local collections for innovative reuse and rearticulation as the needs of local users dictate. (*) it would enable librarians and end-users alike to download “digital master” files as malleable objects for local recombinations, to be enriched with context from librarians or teachers, crafted for specific audiences, and unified in appearance and function. A user could download, combine, search, annotate, and wrap the results into a seamless “digital library mix” for others to experience. (- – -) [A]t present, all you can do is scrutinize that data where it resides, in formats that the creator of the content determined… [Y]ou can have a passive engagement with the content but not an active one. You cannot combine those scattered objects into something new, improved, and shaped for your local needs. (- – -) Libraries create high-quality digital masters for long-term preservation and reuse but then typically expose only one view of a file to the user, in one particular search-and-display software package. This serves one typ of need but underserves others…

The benefits of such deep sharing and deep access are clear, yet we have seen few such efforts from our large, digitising memory institutions (such as archives and libraries). Why is that? I’m thinking particularly of ‘end-users’ seeking digitised cultural heritage material in the public domain, and to what degree they are able to have access not only to delivery formats such as JPEGS or (X)HTML, but to master files (be it image files in tiff etc., or marked up text files in e.g. TEI) of such material, without having to pay extra money for such access. It seems to be such possibilities are scarce at the moment, most digitising memory institutions making only passive display formats accessible to end-users (and a few institutions charging users wanting access to the “heavy” master file material). I understand there are both technical (bandwidth etc), administrative (the quest for control or a tradition to charge for costly colour reproductions) and, most importantly, legal reasons for this: although the original material might be in the public domain, the digitised versions of that material might be considered derivative works deserving copyright protection. This latter argument strikes me however as somewhat awkward. The digitised material, certainly when we talk about image-based strategies, tries to mimic as far as possible the original material – the greater the mimic correspondence is, the better, and the more the digitised version will fulfill its surrogate function and hopefully reduce the handling of the original material. Still it is to be regarded as a new (derivate) work of its own…

Anyway, I would be most grateful for any pointers to collections of digitised cultural heritage material where users actually have free and deep access to “master files” with little or no restrictions as to the re-use of such material for e.g. scholarly purposes.

Yours sincerely,
Mats Dahlstrom
Swedish School of Library and Information Studies

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One Response to deep access to digitised cultural heritage material

  1. According to the Bridgeman v. Corel NY decision in 1999 it is clear for me that digitised content is not copyrightable. There is a new term COPYFRAUD to call such strategies to monopolize the PUBLIC DOMAIN, see

    The Internet Archive makes in its text collection the Djvu-filesof PD works freely available. Thus you can take the ANALECTA HYMNICA volumes, make a own navigation and better OCR and offer an Open Access resp. Open Content alternative to Mr. Rauner’s toll access digitisation of the “AH”.

    May be UTA PD map collection is worth mentioning in this contexts. There are no restriction using the maps. A lot of PD stuff is available in Wikimedia Commons, a great repository of free images.

    Wikipedia would like to use free pictures from the Stoa collection but the licences are not sufficient for Wikipedia use. Wikipedia needs CC-BY or CC-BY-SA. NC is not allowed.

    Greetings from Germany

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