Blogs > Cliopatria > Dispatching Manuscripts, Plagiarism, and People

Jun 21, 2006 12:10 pm


Dispatching Manuscripts, Plagiarism, and People



Michael Ruane,"Checks and Balance Sheets of a City's History," Washington Post, 20 June, reports the inventory of a substantial collection of documents accumulated by Washington's venerable Riggs Bank, which was acquired by PNC Bank last year. No decision about where the Washington-, Jefferson-, Madison-, Lincoln-, Brigham Young-, Theodore and Eleanor Roosevelt-, and Generals Pershing- and Eisenhower-related manuscripts will go has yet been made. Thanks to Miami University's David Fahey for the tip.

Kate Taylor,"Mayor Hints of a Deal for King's Papers, As Scholars Caution on Copyright Issue," New York Sun, 20 June, is the latest update on the proposed auction of the Martin Luther King Papers on 30 June. Sotheby's announcement of the auction links to a catalogue description of the lot. What if they held an auction and nobody bid?

Terril Yue Jones,"Teachers Adjust Lesson Plans as Web Fuels Plagiarism," LA Times, 17 June, claims that about 30% of student papers are plagiarized and teachers are adjusting assignments in order to avoid the problem. Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the tip.

Philip Weiss,"Burning Cole," The Nation, 3 July, is the most recent treatment of evidence that right-wing influences successfully blocked Juan Cole's appointment at Yale. Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.

Andrew Sullivan and an AP report note that a current Pentagon document lists homosexuality as a mental disorder thirty years after health professionals delisted it as such. The report also notes that 726 members of the military were discharged because of their homosexuality in the fiscal year ending in September 2005. That was the first increase in such dismissals since 2001, when 1227 people were discharged for that reason. Last year's increase runs counter to the tendency explored in Randy Shilts's Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U. S. Military for the services to be more tolerant during times of military crises, unless of course the-war-that-has-no-end is no military crisis.




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Charles V. Mutschler - 6/22/2006

Ralph, you are correct, I was listening to Morning Edition on the radio, not catching it on the web. I don't know why your portion of the interview is missing from the web cast.

Your assessment of the situation is similar to that held by many in the archives and museum fields: it is unlikely that any institution would want to acquire a collection under the terms reported in the media.

This is unfortunately a real issue. Sometimes the persons who have the intellectual property rights to a collection want to retain those rights. This is fine as long as researchers understand that they will need to work with the owner of the collection, and use it under the terms and fee structure which the owner has created. However, the researcher probably has little recourse if the terms are not ones that he likes, sinc ethe person who owns the rights controls access. Public institutions, including archives and museums, are probably best served by avoiding agreements which limit their ability to allow access to material in their facility. Some offers are probably best left on the table.

Again, thanks for your comments.

Charles V. Mutschler


Ralph E. Luker - 6/21/2006

Well, that is now live with sound and the interview with me isn't there. I've asked Joshua Levs to send me a link.


Ralph E. Luker - 6/21/2006

I think Charles refers to this, but the audio won't be up for another 40 minutes or so. One of the problems with your suggestion that some deep pockets source buy out the literary rights from the King Estate is that it sets a bad precident for all future arrangements between archives and potential donors. If you read the stipulations in the on-line catalogue of this collection, the problems go beyond even the ownership of literary rights. The Estate stipulates, for example, that it would continue to have a controlling voice in how the documents may be displayed. Any winning bidder is simply buying the right to pay overhead costs in housing and maintaining this collection and dealing with King Estate attorneys into the foreseeable future.


Jonathan Dresner - 6/21/2006

You're gonna have to provide a link, guys! I can't find it on the NPR website: was it a local station?

I wonder if some philanthopist might not be able to pry the literary rights away with an order of magnitude larger price: say, $100M instead of $15M.


Charles V. Mutschler - 6/21/2006

Very nice commentary on Morning Edition today, Mr. Luker. I'm sure you are familiar with the issues I'm about to comment on, but for the benefit of some of our other readers, I offer them.

The whole issue of sales or purchases of collections to archival repositories is a complicated one. While I can understand the reasoning behind a family wanting to retain the literary rights to a collection, I would have a hard time justifying spending anyone else's money to preserve the material unless there were extensive public benefits from it. That generally means a transfer of literary rights to the public. Otherwise, what is happening is a subsidy to the family. While a private donor might feel this is a good use of his funds, I agree with some of the other persons who have been quoted in print or on-line sources who state that it would not seem like a good use philanthropic funding. The case for public funding is even less compelling. The public receives little benefit from a physical transfer of a collection without the legal rights to allow others to use it freely. Even if a philanthropist has paid for the purchase, the institution is sitll covering the cost of maintaining the collection and providing access to it.

This is not an unusual situation, though with the King family it receives much more coverage than most instances of restrictive sales or gifts. However, archivists and museum curators have been long struggling with the problems created by physical gifts or sales of materials where the family retains the literary or other rights. This is one reason that some institutions have dealt with this by stipulating that they will not accept materials unless the literary rights are trasnferred with the collection.

Again, thanks for a thoughtful interview on NPR.

Charles V. Mutschler

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