A fascinating day was enjoyed by all who braved London’s hottest day so far this year to attend IAL’s latest Study Forum held on 29th June.
Topics ranged from the origins of modern copyright law to international laws on restitution to the treatment of human remains. Dr Elena Cooper (Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, CREATe) gave a fascinating account of the development of copyright law in nineteenth century England, describing how it was then used primarily as a tool to protect collectors, rather than artists. It was enlightening to see how some of the provisions of contemporary copyright law which often bemuse our students (and us too!) derive directly from those early days when a very different perspective prevailed. A backdrop featuring large-scale prints of three of the works at the centre of some of the key debates truly brought the topic to life. As Elena commented, Powerpoint just wouldn’t have done those nineteenth century copyright pioneers justice!
Present day copyright concerns were discussed by Pinar Oruc of Queen Mary University of London, who looked at the digitisation of cultural heritage and the many complex copyright issues which arise in digitisation projects.
Another issue which often involves difficult and sensitive decisions for museums is how best they should deal with human remains in their collections. This topic was addressed by the IAL’s Dr Rebecca Reynolds and Dr Marie-Sophie de Clippele from the Université Saint-Louis, Brussels, who explained certain proposed changes in Belgium on the topic.
The theme of restitution was taken up by the final two speakers. Eyob Derillo, from the School of Oriental and African Studies shared his insights from working on the several hundred Ethiopian manuscripts from the British Library’s collection. After going through the fascinating history of the texts (including the controversial arrival of 350 of them in Britain after being seized by British troops at the Battle of Maqdala), he outlined the Library’s projects for digitising the manuscripts. Some 300 have already been digisited and many of the digital versions have been shared directly with Ethiopia. To conclude the day IAL’s Alexander Hermantook a broader view of the development of international laws on restitution and their application to contemporary debates.
In many ways, this drew together a theme running through the day. Whilst the topics ranged across the panoply of art-law issues, at their core they were all looking at the same fundamental question: how have we striven, for centuries, to protect and share art and culture and how can we learn from the lessons of the past to move forward.