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Finite Grey Areas | Infringement of Copyright, Intellectual Property | Databases – Analogue-Digital

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

This is a public statement concerning the exploitation of my compilation of primary sources, royal inventories and documents representing years of hard work. I collated the latter material in archives in Portugal, Spain, Austria, Italy, France and Goa, India. My field trips to these countries were primarily paid for with personal funds, not institutional funding. These long years of research results and output were published in a respected, highly regarded academic journal in Vienna in 2001.


I, the primary author of this lengthy essay, inserted an analogue documentary database into the above publication as appendices comprising over 100 pages of chronologically catalogued, previously unpublished source materials – correspondence, payment accounts, diaries, travelogues, contemporary eyewitness accounts, and Spanish royal passports (cédulas). This compilation records 50 years of art and cultural transfers of global commodities, wild animals, medicinal products, luxury goods, jewellery, precious stones and pearls, New World artefacts, Far Eastern lacquers and Ming porcelain between the Iberian Peninsula and Central European courts – Vienna, Prague, Graz, Innsbruck, Munich.  


These appendices are presently being mined - in-depth - for a digital (GIS) mapping project without permission having been requested in advance from this essay's author(s) with its rich database. Equally, consent was not asked from the Austrian academic journal in which it was published.


This essay and its documentary contents are not Open-Access.

A pre-doctoral candidate in Lisbon, based at the Universidade Nova (Art History Department) and Erfurt at The Gotha Research Center, is responsible for this mapping as part of her training for an EU-funded project, which received 2.5 million Euros in 2019. This student blithely began her digital mapping over two years ago.


This candidate’s Universidade Nova professor and dissertation advisor in Lisbon failed or expressly omitted to tell her that permission from the persons and institutions involved must be obtained.


To make matters worse and academically unacceptable, neither the author(s) nor the Viennese institution was even requested to collaborate or give an opinion.


A leading scholar in London called this complete lack of academic ethics - “morally disturbing”.


My public statement aims to open a dialogue with other scholars and academics about the thorny questions - finite grey areas - regarding intellectual property and copyright in our digital world and open-access research. Younger generations appear to be unapprised of their academic responsibilities and the need to respect, and not transgress, the past and ongoing work and research of others.


Longer essays, books, chapters, and peer-reviewed journal articles should not be seen as “up for grabs” - with research findings first made by others, only to be repackaged and republished under new names with minimal citations – if at all.


Originality becomes opaque as recycling other people’s material is far easier than doing hard archival research since this exercise requires expertise in foreign languages, Latin, and palaeography, besides relocating to different European archives for extended periods.


Does this explain why this pre-doc student did not find it necessary to ask me for permission? What has happened to a student conducting their original research for one’s dissertation?


My question in this debate is, what are intellectual property and copyright boundaries, and what is permissible in the 21st century?


European laws regarding the copyright of publications, notably and, in particular, databases (online or analogue), are limited in terms of years. Fifteen, to be precise. This means academic researchers and authors can be left out in the cold, unable to protect their work. 


Any comments and feedback are welcome, as such digressions happen daily to many academic colleagues worldwide, and infringements seem to be on the rise.




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