Copyright as an accessibility issue

This is a tentative post because there are complex issues surrounding copyright which iMuse would not claim to have grasped fully. BUT, looking back on what we’ve done over the last few months, and are currently planning in the three museums/galleries we’re working with at the moment, it seems we are being driven at least partly by copyright issues. The primary iMuse ‘idea’ is that smaller museums might be able to help visitors engage more, and get better accessibility, by using their own mobile equipment – especially smartphones, and increasingly, tablets. However, in each site so far we’ve encountered copyright problems that mean material can be used in-gallery but not outside. This means publishing openly via the web is ruled out, so the simplistic (sounding) ‘put your material on the web and show visitors how to access it on their phone’ or ‘don’t write (or pay for) posh native apps – do simple web apps with a bit of HTML5 etc’ becomes impossible if you want to use some in-house material. And this doesn’t just apply to images of objects, but in some cases to text. Even the text of in-gallery labels was so heavily copyrighted that in one museum iMuse was not allowed to demonstrate how an iPad could help by blowing the text up. In another, although the artist had been dead for 2.5 thousand years, visitors were not allowed to take photos of a loaned pot as ‘ownership’ rested elsewhere. Thus copyright is working against accessibility. What to do? Well, we need to think more than we already have on this issue and work on it right from the start in projects. What has actually happened, rather subtly, is that iMuse is falling back more and more on the rather old-fashioned model of the museum providing the equipment for the visitor. There are some pluses to this approach of course. We have complete control over the interface, and while at this experimental stage, can afford to loan one or two high-resolution iPads to the museums. However, this approach doesn’t scale or encompass the generality of devices that visitors will increasingly bring along. For example, we have implemented ‘mini apps’ using the Kiosk Pro app as the ‘host’ on iPads. This works pretty well, getting over other problems, particularly patchy or non-visitor centred wi-fi. BUT this app is iPad specific. We are subtly getting further sucked-into the Apple ecosystem by using other special features too – the Guided Access mode is one and using iBooks Author in a gallery which has existing Mac experience is another. Have others already studied (and resolved…) ‘copyright as an accessibility issue?’. Copyright is not iMuse’s area of expertise – we need help!