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Re: Ray Triceratops & Other Issues

Martin Tillett <mtillett@umd5.umd.edu>:
>Still later, Larry Smith speaks of all specimens just being a mouse
>click away in the near future. To what people will they be just a mouse click
>away? Are educators and amateur paleontologists going to have access to the
>digitized fossils and to be able to incorporate them in their lessons or re-
>search? Does the museum still maintain the kind of ownership rights and
>policies over the digital images in order to have full control over who uses
>the pictures and for what purpose they are used?

I would expect they'd be available to anyone on the net.  As for
"ownership rights and policies" I would hope that museums would
place education and the public good ahead of any commercial use
of such images and make them freely available for that purpose, or
at a nominal fee.  That should be much easier in an era when run-
ning a museum would be vastly simpler and cheaper than it is today.

Consider the cost of mounting a single specimen for display - it
is an enormous amount of labor to mount it, transport it, install
it, pay for maintaining the floorspace it uses.  In a virtual
museum, reconstructions are done by placing the bone in 3-space
and locking it into a relationship with neighboring bones - perhaps
even providing articulation information to an articulation program.
It requires no rods, no glue, no danger to specimens, doesn't even
need casts, certainly no ladder - and can be done by just one per-
son, even as a spare-time project, or one for school credit.  "Real"
specimens would be digitized and then stored in drawers for easy
access by experiments requiring the original.  Museums, instead of
being expensive, fancy buildings, would become non-descript ware-
houses for the most part, cheap, low-maintenance, plenty of room
for "real" work.  Museums as we think of them today would dwindle
and eventually go away except for a few kept as national keepsakes.

And that will be a good thing - museums today are saddled with
reconstructions that are just plain wrong.  Good museums label
them as "historical" reconstructions and _talk_ about how they
are wrong - but the mount is still _wrong_.  When a reconstruction
is done is cyberspace, they are dead easy to replace when something
better comes along.

Of course, it is possible that musuems might succumb to the "intel-
lectual property" meme that is trying to put a cap on the free flow
of ideas in the world.  In that case, it could easily be the case
that access would be restricted to "members" or other paying types,
with codes preventing downloading of data so "amateurs" would not
be able to try their own reconstructions or revise the "professional"
ones, and other such retrograde phenomena.  However, given the vast
damage already being done with over-protective copyrights, software
patents and other manifestations of this destructive meme, I suspect
we'll have worse problems than whether or not I can view deinonychus
reconstructions on-line.  Mind you, I'm far from a "we all own every-
thing in common" mentality on property, most people would characterize
me as a rabid Libertarian - but it is quite possible to go too far with
"protection" - when people begin asserting legal ownership of something
between someone's ears, anyone but a lawyer would be comfortably sure
we have gone beyond the bounds of utility.

Larry Smith