Darwin’s Manuscripts

UPDATE 2014-11-25 6:28AM (ET): Grant Young, Head of Digital Content at Cambridge University Library commented to let us know where the Darwin manuscripts stand legally. The unpublished manuscripts remain under copyright to the Darwin Estate until 2039. As Young notes in his comment below, Cambridge University Library is actively working to reduce the copyright period on unpublished works and prefers to release documents as openly as possible. The original post has been modified with the elements that are no longer applicable having been struck out.

The Cambridge Digital Library has simulataneously done a thing that is very cool thing and thing that is a bit uncool. They have digitized and made available online over 30,000 Charles Darwin manuscripts from 1835-1882. That is a very cool thing to do.

The Charles Darwin Papers in the Manuscripts Department of Cambridge University Library hold nearly the entire extant collection of Darwin’s working scientific papers. Paramount among these documents are Charles Darwin’s Evolution Manuscripts, which are being published online at the Cambridge Digital Library and simultaneously at the Darwin Manuscripts Project in collaboration with the Darwin Correspondence Project. This is a conceptually coherent set of over 30,000 digitised and edited manuscript pages, spanning 1835-1882.
Cambridge Digital Library

Continue reading “Darwin’s Manuscripts”

Space Updatity

We have a hopeful sounding update on the takedown of astronaut Chris Hadfield’s video cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” from the International Space Station. According to Ars Technica, it was Hadfield himself who took down the video in order to comply with his original agreement with David Bowie. For those paying close attention (eg, not me), Hadfield gave us a little advanced warning that this was going to happen:

Screenshot 2014-05-28 11.23.48

Hadfield and Bowie’s camps are reported to be working on a new licensing deal that should see “Space Oddity” from orbit return to the Web at some unspecified future date. Don’t hold your breath, though. Getting the details of the first, one-year license hammered out apparently took several months – probably due to the variety of individuals and government organizations involved.

If I were David Bowie*, I would be grumpy with my representatives for not getting a new deal done before the old one expired. In the one line of an otherwise very wise discussion of the copyright issues surrounding Hadfield’s “Space Oddity” cover (endorsed by Hadfield) that misses the point, Meera Nair says:

Yet the fact that something that people liked to watch was disappearing from YouTube prompted a bewildering public outcry.

The outcry might have been unreasonable, but there was nothing bewildering about it to regular viewers of the Internet.

The original one-year license made sense at the time. In retrospect, the video seems like the most likely candidate to go viral ever. At the time, who knew it would matter so much when the license expired?

Hadfield’s cover of “Space Oddity” was tremendously good press for Bowie and introduced the song to generations that were not necessarily familiar with his oeuvre. While not necessarily fair, it was obvious that the removal of Hadfield’s cover from the public spaces on YouTube would make Bowie look like a monster. In many ways, this is less a copyright FAIL than a public relations FAIL.

*I suspect that, were I David Bowie, that this issue has not been at the top of my priority list.

Space Oddity, we hardly knew ye…

UPDATE: The video was taken down voluntarily by Hadfield in keeping with his original agreement with Bowie and without pressure from Bowie. That does not mean this is how things should have happened.

Almost one year ago today, I posted about astronaut Chris Hadfield’s cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” from the International Space Station. I hope you took the time to check it out then, because you can’t anymore.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, David Bowie had given Hadfield a one-year license to cover Space Oddity. Last Wednesday, the license expired and the video was taken down.

While Bowie has the right to license his song as he sees fit under the law, it is difficult to see how this helps anyone, including Bowie, aka The Goblin King. It is very easy to see how this hurts the effort to inspire people with science and art.

At the time, I wrote that Hadfield’s cover represented the “best of humanity”. If that was true then, what does this – the use of copyright pedantry not to prevent theft of ideas, but to squash creativity and inspiration – represent?

But, let us reflect the best of humanity and be charitable. Maybe Bowie just forgot to renew the license. I do that all the time – forget things, not licenses, no one wants to license my crap.

*Hat tip to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing.


Creative output, social media & the tragedy of the commons

Screenshot 2014-01-24 11.43.27

Ed Yong’s comment on Alexis Madrigal’s article at The Atlantic is spot-on.

Can you spot the fundamental flaw in the logic of self-justifying logic of the owners of @HistoryInPics*?

“Photographers are welcome to file a complaint with Twitter, as long as they provide proof. Twitter contacts me and I’d be happy to remove it,” he [Xavier Di Petta] said. “I’m sure the majority of photographers would be glad to have their work seen by the massives.”
-from “The 2 Teenagers Who Run the Wildly Popular Twitter Feed @HistoryInPics” by Alexis Madrigal

If you don’t tell people who took the pictures, how do the photographers benefit from having their work seen by the “massives”? Sure, having one’s work make an impact is a reward unto itself, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

When our artists can’t pay their bills, we get less art. Or as the internet would say,  “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

*In general, I avoid linking to folks that are making their bank on the backs of uncredited artists.

Get your art on(line)

The Getty has made 1000s of images of artwork that is in the public domain available online. Like Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius (c. 1460-1470CE) by the “Coëtivy Master”*:

“Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius” (c. 1460-1470CE) by the Coetivy Master

Like other museums that share portions of their collection online, this make an experience of the Getty’s collections available for people around the world, who cannot actually visit the Getty. While the works of art themselves are in the public domain, the Getty might claim copyright over the scans/photos of the art. Instead, they have taken the step of making clear that this images are available for the public to use and adapt as we see fit.

The Getty makes available, without charge, all available digital images to which the Getty holds the rights or that are in the public domain to be used for any purpose. No permission is required. – The Getty “Open Content Program”

I don’t know if letting me print 300dpi images of classic art will hurt The Getty’s bottom line due to reduced gift shop sales of postcards (not from me, the gift shops never have the pieces I want). Hopefully, The Getty’s program will inspire other museums to consider following suit.

*The results of a search for “science” were a bit disappointing, but I suspect that this is mainly due to the age of many of the works. Using a historically relevant term, like “philosophy” was much more productive.
**Hat tip to Hannah Williams.

%d bloggers like this: