Module 5: Digital Exhibits, Copyright, and Open Access

Scholarly article behind a paywall? Society6 took down your Disney fanart? Your crowd-funded Star Trek film is a no go because of the use of the Klingon language? Whether we think of it consciously or not, copyright law shapes our access to media, academic research, and some of our interactions with the world.  I really appreciated this week’s discussion about copyright and open access. It’s so important to understand the law, along with corporate gatekeeping and money-making associated with academic knowledge and creative works. To start, copyright law is so nuanced. I deal with aspects of it on a daily basis with my job and know a lot about a specific aspect of the law, but in other areas I’m a novice and will need to seek out help for some answers pertaining to audio rights for my group project.  

When talking about US copyright law, Disney’s influence on Congress continues to shape what’s available in the public domain. In the 1990’s they lobbied to extend copyright protection on Mickey Mouse which, in turn, delayed it and other works from entering the public domain for another 20 years (shifting the law from 75 to 95 years). Despite Disney’s protection for their own works, it appears they have failed to pay royalties to authors whose works have been purchased and are now under the Disney umbrella. One of our readings for class, “DisneyMustPay” by Allison Flood went into greater detail regarding an author taskforce working to seek royalties for those who may have been slighted.[1] After the class discussion, another article came to light regarding the potential copyright expiration of Spider-Man and how Marvel (now also under Disney) is seeking for that copyright to be extended.[2]

However, Disney is not the only media giant that has pushed the bounds of what can stay in copyright or even be copyrighted. Several years ago, CBS/Paramount sued Axanar Productions for filming a crowd-sourced full length Star Trek film. The charges included a lot of complaints, but one of which included owning the rights to the Klingon language.[3] This particular lawsuit was settled out of court and CBS/Paramount issued new guidelines for fan films that restricts any production to a max of two 15-minute segments/episodes for a self-contained storyline.[4] These stories demonstrate some of the nuance and how complicated copyright law can be.

In the realm of academia, researchers often come across paywalls for articles and the inability to borrow eBooks from other libraries. The frustration of academic article paywalls has helped move the open access debate into prominence, while several library consortiums have also worked hard to negotiate the right to loan eBooks from certain publishers.[5] Somewhat related, one of our discussion questions asked, “Are librarians and academics pro-piracy?” From my experience, librarians are pro-legal access through the fair use clause of copyright and promoting open access publishing. Open access is phenomenal for getting the knowledge out into the world and from behind paywalls. However, there’s still academic roadblocks with preferences for publishing books and articles in recognized academic journals to obtain (or be considered for) tenure.

Aside from copyright and open access, this week also looked at digital exhibits, learning the basics of Omeka, and moving forward with our group projects. Omeka is a lot more straightforward that some of the other software we’ve worked with, and I had fun with my group’s collaboration to make an exhibit about food condiments from around the world. I also really enjoyed digging into the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. I really like this concept and would love to do something similar with other storm systems, especially relating to Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico.  Collecting oral histories and visual imagery is important documentation that doesn’t always happen.  However, as important as this site is, I also have two critiques. I don’t like that the title is so broad and seemingly inclusive, but only includes two storm systems. It would be amazing if the site were updated to include more.  Also, it doesn’t appear that the collected materials were always vetted for metadata inclusion. I noticed that some images don’t include which storm it relates to.[6]  If more storms are studied and memory collection resumes in the future, this problem could be solved with a required field storm identifier dropdown menu.

Finally, my group project is also starting to take shape. We’re examining an aspect of film history, which has had me digging though various archives and looking at silent films for the environmental study. Silent films are near and dear to my heart, and I actually made one on film for the Super Gr8 Film Festival in 2019.  So, if you’ve gotten to the end of this and would like to see me acting and directing in a less than 3-minute, one take, cheesy silent film, today is your lucky day. 😊  Also, don’t judge too harshly, the beauty of this festival is that everyone who participates is issued a Super 8 camera with one 3-minute reel of film, which must be shot in order, with one take, and no editing. The undeveloped film is returned to the festival, and everyone(including the director) gets to watch the film for the first time when it premieres.[7] This was meant to be the first installment of the Shenandoah Valley Fauxlore Project, which took actual Shenandoah Valley Folklore and modified it for storytelling purposes. In this, I took actual local legends of the hoop snake and intertwined it with Greek mythology to include Ouroboros and Medusa.

[1] Alison Flood, “DisneyMustPay: authors form task force to fight for missing payments,” The Guardian April 28, 2021.

[2] Brooks Barnes, “Disney Sues to Keep Complete Rights to Marvel Characters,” New York Times, September 24, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/24/business/media/disney-marvel-copyright-lawsuits.html

[3] Alan Yuhas, “Who owns Klingon? Lawsuit draws battle over invented languages into court,” The Guardian, April 30, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/apr/29/star-trek-fan-film-klingon-paramount-cbs-lawsuit

[4] Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines https://www.startrek.com/fan-films

[5] I gave a presentation about this at a 2019 Interlibrary Loan conference titled, “The Current State of eBook Borrowing and Lending.” 😊

[6] “[Untitled],” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed September 26, 2021, http://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/45965.

[7][7] It was legitimately nerve-racking. I have a few blurry shots, but not bad for a first try.


  • May

    It’s very cool you have an in-depth knowledge of aspects of copyright. I sometimes think it’s ridiculous when things like moments from reality television shows can’t be reposted on social media, even seconds of a reaction video, without majorly altering the original source. It feels like as we progress into a more digital society, people want to copyright time rather than content. It’s a bizarre thing to witness.

    I am a film professor, and it is very cool to see your video here! Isn’t working with super 8 amazing? I always try to push my students towards it, though it always requires more of an investment than they prefer. But people don’t understand how working with film in a material sense completely changes the creative process rather than pressing a button on a phone. I am really excited to read about how your project evolves.

  • Gail V Coleman

    Paula, I agree with you about the importance of our understanding the copyright laws and I really appreciated your knowledge and insights about copyright law in our breakout group discussion! I look forward to finding out more about your job and your academic interests through our cohort. And I love your video!
    I was also stunned by the article about Disney resisting royalty payments to artists.

    I have recently been stunned to learn about how expensive it is for libraries to purchase e-books and e-audio books. And they are often limited in how many times they can circulate. During COVID this was essential to the library public. Like the academic journal publishing business, I don’t understand why ebooks are so expensive? The costs are so low! I can easily find hard copy of most books in the library but have a long wait for ebooks. And I understand that they cannot purchase them from Amazon.

    • Martina Tsibu-Gyan

      Hi Paula,

      I was struck about the fan funded Star Trek film and it got me thinking about the world of fanfics. A lot of fan fiction writers interpret popular characters (many from the Marvel franchise) in the way they would like to see them. The interpretations are usually more inclusive and tend to have more character diversity and I wonder how copyrights affect them. There are fans with volumes and volumes of works based on these characters whose rights are owned. Are they completely unable to profit of these works? Especially when they’re providing an audience that often doesn’t feel seen in these superhero worlds a chance to be.

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