Museums and copyright

After reading the article Social Work by Pam Meechan, I was left wondering about the question of copyright. I have waited til class if we will maybe touch upon this topic but we did not so I decided to write my last blog post about this.

First, let me start with the quote from Meechan’s text that made me start thinking about this whole copyright issue

”A rush to digitize collections sees most museums with online, copyright-free collections. Faced with the impossibility of tracking the misuse of images, many museums and galleries have relinquished copyright except for blatantly commercial purposes. The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in 2012 removed copyright restrictions  for more than 10 thousand images.”

After reading this part and Meechan’s article in general and his thought about digitization of museums and the artwork of museums, I was wondering where we should actually draw the ‘copyright line’? Are museums breaking copyright by putting their art works online, by doing virtual tours? Are visitors breaking copyright by taking pictures and posting them online? Is there even a proper way to track the copyright in this age?

World intellectual property organization (WIPO) published a 72 pages long document about the issue of museums and copyright. It is free for download at their pages and it is definitely interesting if someone wants to read more into it. This manual also addresses the issue of copyright in the digital age, which is getting more and more complicated. This is why WIPO states, that there is not a model for every museum but in the future the copyright will be check individually as it is such a complicated topic.

It is apparent, however, even from the type of work conducted with profit-oriented companies, that a “one-size-fits-all” model will not work, particularly given the digital divide that exists between economies in the industrial and developing countries. Instead, a program or service where experts, engaged specifically for this task, are able to assess each opportunity on a case-by-case basis would greatly enhance the respect for the IP system and educate owners and users about IP. (WIPO’s own integrity as an organization and its ability to harness a vast wealth of knowledge about IP can only assist in this regard.) It is by these means that WIPO will ensure that museums have their issues addressed as the interpreters, repositories and distributors of the vast intellectual wealth of society.

But with such a dynamic growth of the internet age and digital art, will there come a time where we will eventually lose the sense of copyright completely?


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