First off, I think we can all agree that the Internet is an amazing thing. It is immense and full of things you would never think of if you did not see it. The Internet contains some amazing pieces of history for the world to enjoy. Some, like the Virtual Hampson Museum, have 3D scans of archaeological artifacts for perusal by anyone who wants to look. Others like the podcast series Stuff You Missed in History Class make a concerted effort to spread accurate history from around the world that is not always a part of high school curriculum.
The Internet has become not just a place for entertainment, but also a place for scholars to gather information and educate the public. Now archivists and museum workers can scan objects in order to create a digital record. That record can be corrupted or cease to function, but it can also preserve an object on a platform that makes it more accessible than it otherwise would be. Digital records and scans can work as backups in case the original get destroyed. True, it would not be the same as having the original, but a copy (especially a high quality copy) is better than nothing.
I believe that one of the big problems with keeping copies or scan of historical artifacts online is the same as with most things online: someone taking something out of context or lying. If a scan of a historical picture is online then people are able to copy and paste or take a screenshot. Normally that is not much of a problem (easy access is one of the good things about the Internet, after all.) but it can be an issue if the person using that copy then reposts it somewhere with no context or with fake context. But again, this is an issue that most of the Internet has to deal with.
I surprised myself last class by actually knowing some of the facts about fair use. I did not know about it from the readings that were assigned, but from a YouTube celebrity that I watch, the Nostalgia Critic.
The Nostalgia Critic reviews movies, sometimes movies that you have never heard of and sometimes of the more mainstream variety. He uses clips from the movies that he is reviewing in order to make the critique more comprehensive and easy to understand. A few months ago, he posted a video about issues he was having with YouTube saying that his videos contained copyrighted material. In the video, Critic explained fair use and how it applied to what he did.
However, I knew next to nothing else about how the mechanics of copyright works when it came to the academic world. I was just happy that I was such a small fry that I could get images for a project from a good Google search and maybe scanning a few pictures from a book. It seems like a lot of work to use pictures in your work. (I knew that authors had to site their photos, but not the extent that they had to go to so that a photograph can be published.) But a lot of academic work improves greatly from some pictures, even if they are all in the middle of the book.
The lecture made me appreciate the work that authors go through so that readers like me can have a more enjoyable experience. When it comes to digital history, the situation is no less complicated. I suppose the copy and paste functions make it much easier to replicate a photo or bit of text, but posting a copy online leaves you more open to litigation. Which makes knowledge of copyright all the more important. Copyright also affects which objects can be put on display or what can be incorporated into the gift shop. If a museum or an archive has the photo but not the copyright basically all they can do is store it and not show it to anyone. Which kinda defeats the purpose of a museum or archive.
Here is my podcast about the early career of Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Tsarina of Imperial Russia.