Letters to the Editor


D-Lib Magazine
January 2006

Volume 12 Number 1

ISSN 1082-9873

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.

Dear Editor:
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.
Best regards,

Simon Tanner
Director, King's Digital Consultancy Services
King's College London <simon.tanner@kcl.ac.uk>

(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 AIHT.
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 <http://www.naa.gov.au/recordkeeping/preservation/digital/applications.html>. The paper "An approach to the preservation of digital records" is especially recommended.
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.

Andrew Wilson
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

D-Lib Magazine welcomes letters related to digital library research and electronic publishing issues. Also welcome are letters with questions or comments about the magazine in general, or about articles appearing in the magazine. Please do not send letters that are primarily commercial, promotional, or advertising in nature.

Letters concerning articles selected for possible publication as Letters to the Editor will be forwarded to the article authors for response. If published, the Letter to the Editor will appear with the article authors' responses whenever possible. D-Lib Magazine reserves the right to edit or shorten letters. If you prefer, you may request that your letter not be published.

Letters to the Editor present the opinions of their authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of D-Lib Magazine, its publisher, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, or its sponsor.

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