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2 minutes to read Posted on Wednesday March 27, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Emily D’Alterio

Emily D’Alterio

Former Editorial & PR Officer , Europeana Foundation

A Season of Women in culture and tech: Scann, digital cultural heritage and copyright expert

Today we interview Evelin Heidel (aka Scann) - academic and digital cultural heritage and copyright expert. She has some extremely powerful words in her hard-hitting response that doesn't shy away from critical topics such as the intersection of feminism and decolonisation, racism and sexism in copyright law, equal pay for equal work including a very pointed message on male privilege.

Evelin Heidel aka Scann from the colouring book “UnCommon Women” (2017), by Rori Comics, modified by Ro Ferrer, CC BY-SA
Initiation? ceremony, Magdalenian. Nine partially clothed women and one young man.
Wellcome Collection
United Kingdom

From Scann...

I’m Evelin Heidel, but people know me more as Scann. I’m from Argentina, I studied literature and I have been working in the intersection of digital cultural heritage and copyright law for the last ten years, contributing with several projects and organisations, including Creative Commons (CC) and the DIY Book Scanner project. I was a fellow at the Harvard Library Innovation in 2018.

What are you working on right now?

I’m finishing some details to publish the report over the consultation process on the specialisation for GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) for the Creative Commons Certificates. This is a major effort to offer sustained training on openness and CC licensing. We want to help GLAM institutions improve their open licensing practices.

We are also starting some conversations around how can we better communicate copyright status over public domain works. Determining whether, when and where work is in the public domain is still a difficult process, given the lack of reliable and consistent information about authors and works. While digital content is being shared globally, public domain rules and assessments are always jurisdictions-based and create uncertainty over reuse of works. The fear of legal risk leads GLAM institutions to be overly conservative in marking works as public domain. All these create a chilling effect to share and reuse public domain works, resulting in an overall loss for culture and democracy. As more tools are appearing to make copyright clearance easier, such as Wikidata, we need to ask ourselves the question of how can we integrate existing solutions, including CC tools, to create a commons-based infrastructure for clearing and communicating public domain status over works. We’ll be exploring some of that in a workshop that will take place at the CC Summit in Lisbon in May, where I’m leading the GLAM track.

In the OpenGLAM initiative, we are doing housekeeping with the @openglam Twitter account, finishing analysing the results of the OpenGLAM Principles survey and working on revamping the website. We’ll also be presenting some of this work at the CC Summit, with folks from the Open Knowledge Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation.

That being said, I’m personally still in an 'in-between' situation job wise - I'm finishing my degree and I’m looking for opportunities to work or study abroad.

How did you get into your field?

I came across copyright law early when I was studying. Some of that story can be found in the Argentina chapter of the book Shadow Libraries: Access to knowledge in higher education. Then I ended up being an active contributor for several organisations working in all the things 'open', including Creative Commons and the DIY Book Scanner project.

Shadow Libraries Access to Knowledge in Global Higher Education, edited by Joe Karaganis, MIT Press, CC BY-SA
Shadow Libraries Access to Knowledge in Global Higher Education, edited by Joe Karaganis, MIT Press, CC BY-SA

What are the challenges for women in the workforce today? What can be done to improve matters?

I think there are at least four different challenges in the intersection of open, GLAM and women, referred to four different areas of work inside GLAM institutions: technology, partnerships, institutional missions and copyright policies.

First, the need to incorporate digital technologies to the workflow of GLAM institutions is generating or increasing the pay gap between men and women inside different areas of GLAM institutions. This happens in part because GLAM careers were traditionally followed by mostly white women, while technology has been stereotyped as a male career. Sometimes the technology work gets outsourced, which probably makes things worse in terms of the pay gap. How does the gender division of labour between technology and librarianship services affect institutions, and how can it be addressed and solved? How is this having an impact on the recognition of women’s labour that happens behind 'all things digital', from digitisation to metadata?

The open movement has its root in the toxic masculinity culture of the free/open source software movement, that most of the time is oblivious to white privilege and the gendered division of labour, as Coraline Ada Ehmke has already pointed out.

How does is this expressed in the sort of participation models that the open movements have in their partnerships with GLAM projects or institutions? How does it orient or favours a certain type of collaboration? What are the biases in those interactions and how can we change them?

GLAM institutions work with organising and categorising knowledge and art, historically tailored to fit the white, Western and male perspective over the world. Several GLAM institutions and professionals challenge this legacy. How can lessons of feminism and decolonisation movements help us reshape our views over knowledge and heritage in the digital environment? There are many leaders asking questions of this nature, such as Sarah Bond on how digital access doesn’t count as repatriation, Tara Robertson on ethical concerns about what to digitise and share and Jane Anderson on how to work with indigenous communities inside GLAM projects. We need more organisations asking the questions that WhoseKnowledge? is asking.

What does open access mean to the intersection of feminism and decolonisation? How can we better work with marginalised and oppressed communities to share and understand their perspectives of the world through digital content? How can this help to improve democratic dialogue?

Lastly, scholars such as Ann Bartow, Debora Halbert, Kevin Greene and Carys Craig, to name a few, have already pointed out to the sexist and racist nature of copyright law; how the relationship between copyright law and gender affects the work of GLAM professionals and the impact copyright protection terms have on digitising and sharing the work of women and black artists. Collecting societies and copyright interest groups are dominated by white men, while the groups that grant rights such as access to knowledge in a copyright restrictive environment are largely dominated by women, including GLAM professionals but also teachers and educators. What role do gender bias and gender gaps have in shaping copyright law and policy?

I don’t have a definite answer for most of these questions. I only think they need to be explored in the aftermath of institutions adopting open licensing, especially if we want to build a more equitable and fair digital environment.

Do you feel that women are sufficiently empowered and present in leadership positions?

No. Women in leadership positions still have to work double and harder than their male peers. And even more, if they happen to be black, come from a working-class background and/or a marginalised community and/or were born in an underdeveloped country. That’s also why we need more feminist women leaders and feminist leaders in general.

And leadership means nothing if it is not matched with economic rights. Equal pay for equal work, equal distribution of childcare leaves and care work responsibilities, and recognition of non-paid labour. Any person, man or woman, in a leadership position inside an organisation that is working with a feminist perspective should work to make this a reality.  

What message would you share with women in the sector today?

Women have received way too many messages about what we should be and how we should behave. I think we don’t need any more messages. I do have a message for white cis males reading this interview: question your privileges. Again. And again. And always. Preferably, until you lose them. There are a lot of things you can do to be an ally. Do them.

What digital communities or networks do you find rewarding?

I like being a member of Creative Commons. I think they are aligned with a lot of these concerns. There’s always room for improvement, but at the very least they’re paying attention. The work with the Open GLAM network is particularly interesting because it is an effort to better align communities of practice working in the intersection of digital heritage and openness.

Who (or what) inspires you at the moment?

I think that this is a good space for other people to look at the work of truly amazing women. If you feel the urgent need to put together an all-white-western-cis-male-panel, all the ladies and black folks mentioned in this interview rock in their fields. Call them. Cite them. Avoid yourself some embarrassment.

You can also use this short list:

Kelsey Merkley and her UnCommon Women work; Andrea Wallace, for the OpenGLAM survey and her research work more in general; Mariana Fossatti, for her work at #VisibleWikiWomen and her leadership inside CC Uruguay (which is full of amazing women that you should know, such as Patricia Díaz Charquero, Carina Patrón, Paula Domínguez Font and Ileana Silva); Irene Soria Guzmán, from CC Mexico; Loren Fantin and her super-duper work at Our Digital World, which I’m a very big fan of. Mariana Valente, another OpenGLAM advocate, who is working to address digital rights from a feminist perspective; Paula Félix-Didier, the director of the Cinema Museum in Argentina, who works all the time against the tide to preserve the film heritage in Argentina. Carys Craig for her amazing feminist critiques of copyright law. Jennryn Wetzler and Maran Wolston are the CC Certificates superheroines. And the conversation about the public domain statements that I mentioned at the beginning of this interview is mainly being commanded by Diane Peters; they have been key to bringing the legal tools of CC to their current shape - and those tools are a fundamental part of openness.

Also, my mom rocks.

Want more? Visit the full list of profiles for the Women in Culture and Tech series. Want your say? Join our sector-wide Twitter chat: Friday 29 March 15.00 CET following #womeninculturechat