Volume 12 Number 1
To the Editor
The letter below was received in response to the opinion piece, Public Domain Art in an Age of Easier Mechanical Reproducibility, by Kenneth Hamma, J. Paul Getty Trust, in the November 2005 issue of D-Lib Magazine.
December 19, 2005
In Ken Hamma's useful opinion piece on public domain art, he references my work on Reproduction charging models & rights policy for digital images in American art museums but did not provide the URL for those who might interested. The full report is available at <http://www.kdcs.kcl.ac.uk/USart.htm>, in both PDF and XML formats.
Ken also says that "this study did not address the policy issue of this paper" and I agree in part, but I do feel that it is the most comprehensive study done in recent times that provides actual firm numbers and the policy and reasoning behind those decisions.
For example, we have clear numbers for the most important driving factors for art museums in providing images. These are:
1st - Serve public and educational use
2nd - Promote the museum and its collections
3rd - Serve publishers and/or commercial picture use
Making money is right down there at 8th place and supports Ken's thesis to some extent.
I also concluded that museums need to ask themselves some very fundamental questions regarding the way they use images to enable them to set priorities. The priorities it is recommended that need to be considered most carefully are:
- Is control over the way an image of an artwork owned by the museum used, represented and credited the most important priority to the museum?
- Is the fidelity of the image to the original artwork as important a priority as controlling its use?
- Is promotion of the museums collections as important a priority?
- Does scholarly and educational use of an artwork (especially one in the public domain) ever contradict or supersede the need to control its representation and use?
- Does serving the internal needs of the museum ever contradict or supersede the need to control the representation of artworks?
- Does recouping service costs or making a surplus ever contradict or supersede the need for control? Is there a sum of money at which the museum would relax such control?
- Are providing high fidelity images with an appropriate license for the museum and the wider communities use more important than how much the service costs to run?
These are very hard questions to ask at the museum policy level but the answers will provide a ranked set of priorities that will help a museum to set policy and to think strategically about an issue that is sometimes relegated to a backwater.
I also feel that if museums used a more transparent charging structure so it was more clear what the money was needed to support (i.e. the service provision rather than necessarily the image rights), then museums would have an easier time in the market place. My report provides a suggested way of doing this.
Director, King's Digital Consultancy Services
King's College London
(Editor's note: As is D-Lib policy, Kenneth Hamma was given the opportunity to respond to the Letter to the Editor about his opinion piece, but he declined, saying that no response was necessary.)
The letter below was received in response to the article, AIHT:
Conceptual Issues from Practical Tests , by Clay Shirky, New York University, in the December 2005 issue of D-Lib Magazine.
To the Editor:
December 19, 2005
I take issue with some matters raised in Clay Shirkey's recent article on
Firstly, his blunt assertion that 'Declaring that a piece of metadata is
required is really an assertion that content without that metadata is not
worth preserving...'. It is not reasonable to make this equation. The
purpose of metadata is to make digital resources useable over time. A
requirement for some specific metadata is a statement that such metadata is
necessary to make the resource useable over time. It certainly does not
equate to saying the resource is not worth preserving without the metadata.
Indeed much valuable digital data does not have all the metadata necessary
to ensure it remains useable over time, but responsible archival
institutions will still expend effort in preserving such data. Metadata has
nothing to do with 'desirability' but all to do with usability and
accessibility and the archival community has been grappling with these
issues for decades.
Secondly, his conclusion that 'data-centric strategies for shared effort are
far more scalable than either tool- or environment-centric strategies' will
come as no surprise to anyone who is aware of the approach to digital
preservation developed by the National Archives of Australia (NAA). This
approach, based around XML normalisation, first published in 2001 (revised
2002), is a completely data-centric approach and is now an operational
reality at NAA. More information can be found at
The paper "An approach to the preservation of digital records" is especially
Dr. Gladney's point, made in a recent letter to the editor, is again
reinforced: too often authors of D-Lib articles make inadequate use of
existing research and prior work.
Arts and Humanities Data Service
King's College London
Below is Clay Shirky's response to the letter from Andrew Wilson.
To take the second issue first, when I said that data-centric strategies
for shared effort are far more scalable than either tool- or
environment-centric strategies, I did not mean to suggest that the
observation was novel, merely that it was true and should be heeded.
Although Mr. Wilson quotes work from 2001, that basic observation about data
and tools dates back to at least 1975, with the publication of Fred Brooks
"The Mythical Man-Month"; the challenge before us is to introduce it to the
people who are working in the field.
To the economics of required metadata, I think Mr. Wilson has simply mis-read me. The issue here is not the value of good metadata to the
preservation effort, about which we agree. The issue is the problem inherent
in making such metadata a requirement.
It is tempting to believe that labeling a particular type of metadata
required will make it universally available. The result of such labeling,
however, is that if a piece of metadata is required but unavailable, then
the data must be rejected; this is the nature of a requirement. The likelier
case is that the constraints will be overridden, and the data will be
accepted without the metadata, which means it wasn't really a requirement in
the first place, merely a recommendation.
We believe that most proposed requirements for meta-data in preservation
systems are really recommendations in disguise. The design advice to
institutions implementing digital repositories is to be extremely wary of
confusing 'should-have' fields (recommendations) with 'must-have' fields
(requirements). The number of absolute requirements should be kept to a
minimum, and there should be a well-understood, visible, and documented
approach to overriding recommendations for the amount and quality of
metadata required for ingest, where the situation warrants.
Clay Shirky, December 19, 2005
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