Editing Wikipedia

I was surprised when I recently spotted a notification from Wikipedia on my phone. Apparently, as a result of having made a certain number of edits, I am eligible for something I had never heard of called “The Wikipedia Library”. The “Library” is essentially a wide range of paywalled scholarly resources, roughly seventy of them, including: JSTOR, Cairn.info, Cambridge UP, OUP, APA, Loeb Classical Library, ancestry.com, newspapers.com, etc.

This was particularly gratifying because I don’t currently have access to any of these (except for JSTOR, which makes available many older items for free to anyone who has an account). For researchers without a university affiliation, it can be infuriating how difficult and expensive it is to obtain articles and other scholarly resources. One has a few other recourses: sci-hub, where a fair collection of scholarly articles are available illicitly, as it were. In many instances, I have relied on the help of friends and acquaintances who can access the article and fence it to me.

My first action after I saw the list of resources newly available to me was to start searching to see if I could come up with any newspaper writings by Margery Latimer, whose work I’ve been reading and researching for the Empyrean Series. Latimer wrote two novels, This Is My Body and We Are Incredible, and about two dozen short stories. She was also a literary reviewer for several newspapers during the 1920s.

I didn’t find any writings by Latimer, but I found numerous reviews and mentions of her several books, and mention also of her marriage to Jean Toomer. Most exciting, though, I found a 1932 obituary notice from the New York Daily News with a photo portrait of Latimer that I had never seen before and that I do not think was previously indexed by Google. The photographer is not identified and, while the portrait is clearly a professional portrait probably taken in a photography studio, it was most likely commissioned by the author herself, or one of her publishers or employers. Compared to the four or five other photos of Latimer that I have seen, it is by far the best, if clarity and recognizability are the criteria of evaluation used.

Is the photo in the public domain? I wondered this. Probably, I thought. So I uploaded it to Wikimedia, after which I promptly received a notice that the photo lacked a license and that its copyright status needed clarification. I started searching for information that would help me to prove its public domain status, if that was the case. (Clearly doing things in the wrong order here—I probably should have done this step first!) Searching in various combinations for “newspapers + photos + copyright + public domain” I found an article by Justin Clark titled “Fair Use And Copyright Research For Newspaper Digitization: What You Need To Know”, which stated that one important place to check is at the Internet Archive in the digitized Catalogs of Copyright Entries, where records of copyright ownership from the United States Copyright Office were published for the period from July 1891 through December 1977. Well, checking the relevant tome for periodicals for 1932, I saw that the NY Daily News did register its copyright. I wasn’t sure how to check whether that copyright was ever renewed, and at this point I felt resigned to the likelihood that the photo would be removed from Wikimedia Commons on copyright grounds.

But good news! A few days later I checked the file again and saw that someone had added a public domain license to the photo, on the grounds that the NY Daily News did not renew its 1932 copyrights.

Sometime along the way, I embedded the photo portrait to Latimer’s Wikipedia page, replacing the previous one of Latimer—a great improvement I think. Hopefully it goes some small way towards bolstering a sense of Latimer’s individuality.

The previous main photo for Latimer’s Wikipedia page (in-copyright, cropped from a photograph with Jean Toomer). [At Wikimedia]