Historical maps are not exempt from copyright and their associated restrictions and working out IPR issues with an archive during the grant writing process will remove a number of unforeseen complications. My inexperience in this matter revealed an issue which may be useful for others with similar ideas to be aware of.
Smaller archives use historical maps as part of their business strategy. This is because certain maps contain valuable information pertaining to the location of different types of features in the built environment. Consequently, this information can understandably be used as a mechanism for generating much needed revenue. Maintaining control of the maps and their digital counter parts helps to ensure the copyright is not infringed and the maps and not widely circulated. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of this when writing a project proposal.
The situation is further complicated, by the motivations of funding bodies who are charged with ensuring that public money is spent wisely by ensuring projects achieve maximum impact for educational use.
For example projects using historical maps can maximise impact and the resulting educational use by applying a process known as geo-referencing, which embeds the spatial coordinate system of the British National Grid within the digital images of the historical map, an example can be seen in a previous JISC project. Once this process has taken place the maps can be deposited in an educational map repository such as DIGIMAP (a university subscriber service that provides access to digital map data to FE/HE). This ensures that the maps are accessible and reusable for educational users. Using the original maps in their digital form are still subject to copyright and requires permission to reuse the material. Using such a repository means the maps are more likely to become more widely used for educational purposes.
This opening up of data can be problematic for smaller archives because it means their revenue streams can be impacted by the wider availability, albeit in the education domain, of their historical maps – even if copyright limitations are still attached. The result is they are are then understandably reluctant to provide access to the maps in digital form.
In my original proposal to JISC I did not include exploring the depositing of the maps within Digimap but it was suggested that it would be a useful addition to the project – of which I whole heartedly agree and the feasibility of which is currently being explored. Although this suggestion made my original project partners uneasy (for reasons I understand and have described above). The result was the manifestation of an unforeseen, unknown risk – the withdrawal for the partners from the project. Obviously this action was a huge disappointment but one that I do understand.
This is an issue which I have experienced first -hand and sadly resulted in the requirement to source historical maps from an alternative archive. For anyone starting out as an early career academic in a similar position here would be my recommendations, which may to prevent such similar issues happening to you:
- Speak to the archive in detail during the writing of the proposal – this can take time (even months) as everyone is busy, so allow plenty of time.
- Speak with the funders about the project idea whilst writing the grant as they can make you aware of exactly what they are looking for.
- Describe in detail the scope of the project to the partners following discussions with the funders – providing a project brief does not contain enough information to resolve IPR issues.
- Consider the following discussions in the bid writing:
- Use and reuse for educational purposes
- Understand how they use their archive material and its value for income generation
- Meet with the archives in person, this is much more efficient than email exchanges and telephone calls
- Have a contingency plan on the back burner – don’t wait for the risk to manifest.