By Elizabeth Heritage

At Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand, we are proud this year to be sponsoring the prizes for NZ school students for GIF IT UP 2015, which will be judged by GIF and comic artist Toby Morris.

GIF IT UP is a fun challenge coordinated by DigitalNZ and the Digital Public Library of America, which calls for the best GIFs created from copyright-free or openly licensed heritage material. GIF-makers can use any content they find via digitalnz.org and dp.la, and other international search services europeana.eu and trove.nla.gov.au. This material must be licensed for reuse. For example, it must be:

  • in the public domain,
  • have a ‘no known copyright restrictions’ statement,
  • or have a Creative Commons licence that allows for reuse.

GIF IT UP 2015 will be judged by an international panel of judges: Tim Hwang from ImgurRebecca Onion from Slate Vault, and Alessandro Scali & Marco Calabrese from Okkult Motion Pictures, who will be awarding a Giphoscope to one supreme GIF IT UP winner, as well as other prizes to three runners up. The GIF with the most Tumblr “notes” will also receive a people’s choice award. You can browse entries to GIF IT UP from around the world at gifitup2015.tumblr.com. If you’d like to create a GIF and enter it, here’s where you’ll find all the information you need.

Here is a rather lovely GIF that Thomasin Sleigh at DigitalNZ made specially for me: a demure lady from Papers Past. Readers of the monthly Creative Commons Aotearoa newsletter, which I write, will know that I am a total sucker for old drawings of ladies with parasols.

Demure Papers Past lady GIF

Evening Post, Volume CXI, Issue 151, 26 June 1926, Page 16. Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand. CC-BY-NC-SA.

So far, so fun. But making and publishing these ‘shortest of all stories’ both requires and is a product of important technical and cultural shifts.

Although based on existing artworks, GIFs are a new and original form of artistic expression. But, because they technically involve making copies of images, copyright law applies. This means that the artist is legally obliged to check the exact provenance, rights status and licence conditions of each image before using it — and this is often almost impossible. Because of the unregistered nature of copyright, it can be incredibly difficult (and time-consuming) to track down the owner. And because of copyright’s long-lasting nature, even images that are several decades old, with long-dead creators, may still be in copyright.

This is all assuming that you even know that the image you want to use exists. Currently, most of New Zealand’s publicly funded or publicly housed cultural heritage is unavailable for reuse by New Zealanders. Despite ongoing digitisation projects, these works are often neither commercially available nor publicly reusable. This means that creators who want to build on the works of the past are either forced to reinvent the wheel or go through a difficult process of asking permission, even when the original works are publicly funded and publicly housed and the creators are long deceased.

The good news, though, is that this is changing. There’s a lot more detail in our upcoming book, A Quiet Revolution: Growing Creative Commons in Aotearoa, but, in short, Open GLAM in NZ is on the rise and growing fast. Galleries, libraries, archives and museums around the country are doing the hard yards of figuring out what the copyright situation is with the items in their collections; whether and how best to digitise them; and how to manage copyright in the unpredictable terrain of the internet. It can be difficult, frustrating and time-consuming work; but it’s important, because what’s at stake is New Zealanders’ relationships with their own history and taonga. I believe that the ability to discover, learn from and creatively reuse our nation’s artworks and other treasures is vital to our understanding of ourselves.

One of the conversations I’m often having with people is about how something as seemingly dry as copyright licensing can have profound impacts on our society, culture and economy. If you’re wondering how this might all work in practice in your workplace, we have heaps of free resources you can use, and I’m always up for a chat — you can reach me on elizabeth@creativecommons.org.nz.

Lots to think about — and lots to do! In the meantime, you have until 21 November to get your Open GLAM on, Kiwi-styles, and enter GIF IT UP. Let me know how you get on, especially if there are parasols involved.

Elizabeth Heritage is the Communications Lead at Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand (CCANZ). She has a degree in History and English and used to work for the Alexander Turnbull Library. When not at CCANZ, Elizabeth is a freelancer in the NZ publishing industry. She has an ongoing interest in the ways in which digital copyright licensing works — or doesn’t — in the arts and heritage sectors.

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