British History Online is a site created and run by Institute for Historical Research (part of the University of London I believe) and the History of Parliament Trust and located at: (note the ‘ac.uk’ domain name signifying the official academic status though rather unusually they do run ads). Their purpose is clearly stated on the front page:
“British History Online is the digital library containing some of the core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles. Created by the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust, we aim to support academic and personal users around the world in their learning, teaching and research.”
Great stuff. And it looks like they are doing a fine job. For example, a quick browse indicates a recent addition was “A Catalogue of Ancient Deeds”, a digitization of a work originally produced by a Mr H. C. Maxwell Lyte in 1890. Obscure material perhaps but undoubtedly of worth and precisely the kind whose value would be maximized by being made open free for anyone to use, reuse and redistribute. In particular it’s good to remember the The Many Minds Principle (the coolest thing to do with your material will be thought of by someone else) and what it means in this context:
- Openness would permit re-presentation of the material in different formats, different layouts and even different media (you want it in plain text: no problem, you want to mark it up in fancy xml — or even RDF: no problem …).
- Openness would permit recombination of this material with other sources. After all much of this kind of material, while interesting, on its own has limited value. By interlinking, annotating and combining it with other data and content we can multiply its utility massively.
- Openness would permit redistribution, easier archiving and distributed hosting (the site’s down: no problem here’s a mirror).
But surprise, surprise what do we find at the bottom of very page:
“Copyright Â© 2007 University of London & History of Parliament Trust – All rights reserved”
Taking a look at their terms and conditions we find:
Unless otherwise stated, the copyright and other intellectual property rights in all material on this site, including photographs and graphical images, and the organisation and layout of the site are owned or controlled by the University of London or the History of Parliament Trust.
You are permitted to access, print and download extracts from this site on the following conditions:
- use of all material on this site is for information and for non-commercial or your own personal use only; any copies of these pages saved to disk or to any other storage medium may only be used for subsequent viewing purposes or to print extracts for non-commercial or your own personal use,
ed: do they have some kind of business model here or is this just “let’s restrict just in case”. Do they also realize that:
- (for example) hosting this material on a site which ran ads (just like they do) likely counts as commercial (and just the uncertainty as to whether or it is or not is a deal-killer)
- they’ve just excluded a large number of those who might be interested in archiving (e.g. Google) or promoting this material (producers of open educational materials for schools).
- material on this site must not be modified in any way,
ed: ok, so there goes reuse
- graphics on this site must not be used separately from accompanying text, and
- any use of the material for a permitted purpose must be accompanied by (i) a full source citation; (ii) the University of London and History of Parliament Trust copyright notice; and (iii) this permission notice.
No part of this site may be reproduced or stored in any other web site or included in any public or private electronic retrieval system or service without the University of London and History of Parliament Trust’s prior written permission.
ed: ok so even if I felt public-spirited and wanted to archive this — and I probably couldn’t even redistribute it — I’d need to ask permission. Really makes it an attractive proposition.
The University of London and History of Parliament Trust reserve all rights not expressly granted in these terms. [ed: one final irony is that much of the stuff on there appears to be (at least in its original unprocessed form) public domain!]
Fantastic, we’ve now pretty much disallowed all uses except plain access and printing (for non-commercial and personal purposes). Given their concern about commercial usage, one really has to wonder what revenue streams they have (or expect to develop) from the likes of “A Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds” or “Feet of fine for Sussex for 1190-1509”.
Moreover, like so many others, they just don’t get that the main benefits of making material digital is the potential for reuse, representation and distributed archiving and distribution. Let’s repeat one more time: