What I enjoy most about working as a research assistant for EMiC is how varied my responsibilities are. Last semester, my tasks including researching and writing biographies for people mentioned within Le Nigog, and running our scanned images through OCR software. This semester, my main task has been obtaining permissions for the works we plan to publish in our digital archive, that is, tracking down the copyright information of French-Canadian artists and intellectuals who died almost–but not quite–fifty years ago.
When I was first assigned this task, I wasn’t even sure how to begin. Matt Huculak linked me to Copyright databases, as did the Dalhousie Copyright Officer (he was very helpful in providing resources and answering my questions, no matter how vague, and he still sends emails checking up on me and my project):
Copyright Renewal Database
Copyright Clearance Centre
Unfortunately, these databases did not contain much information on my obscure French-Canadian authors. At Huculak’s suggestion, I turned towards archives and libraries for more guidance.
I was a little wary about initiating this kind of contact, particularly as much of the correspondence would be conducted in French. So before I began I wrote up templates: clear, concise messages that could easily be modified depending on the individual. I wrote one in French and one in English and had them proofread by someone outside the project to ensure they made sense–I didn’t want my requests ignored or misunderstood. Note: Huculak insisted that I use email as much as possible and keep all the messages on file, so that we had evidence of our search and its results.
Thankfully, my predecessor had already tracked down fonds and collections of these authors and left me links to finding aids. I chose to contact the archivists to see if they had any contact information related to the fonds. Contacting the archivist themselves proved to be more difficult than I anticipated, lost as they were among the myriad of information on the archive and collection websites. I tried to locate the emails of specific archivists and librarians, but often the closest I could get was a vague info@ email or, worst case, submitting an information request into the abyss of the Collections Canada and Archives France websites. Once my requests were sent, I imagine they were referred from person to person until they reached the right one. Now that I have successfully corresponded with many of these archives, I have the coveted emails on file and I can post them for the use of others.
Finally, I waited. Some archivists replied at lightning speed, some took over a month. Some gave replies that had absolutely nothing to do with my request, and some gave me exactly what I needed (contact information of rightholders, heirs, or estates).
When the responses stopped coming in, I contacted Bibliothèque et Archives Nationals du Québec, explained my situation, and asked if they had any resources they could share with me. They linked me to Copibec, a Quebecois copyright database. Like the Copyright Clearance Centre, these folks charge a fee in exchange for obtaining permissions, but they also help users research rightholders. ( a full list of copyright societies like this one can be found here) I contacted them with the names of the missing authors. They were able to confirm that three of the others were nowhere to be found–Copibec had researched them and come up empty handed. This was very valuable information, as the Copyright Board of Canada gives permissions in the case of unlocatable copyright owners. This is where my carefully archived emails will come in handy, as we need to prove that we have made an adequate attempt to find the rightholders.
After two months I have whittled down my list significantly. I hope this post can help others have the same success.
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