Source: DAH Post #4: A Potpourri – Omeka and Scalar, Fair Use and Transformation

Last week, we read Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities: An Issues Report from the College Art Association and the CAA’s 2015 Code of Best Practices in Fair Use in the Visual Arts. We also explored Omeka and Scalar, two web publishing platforms designed for presenting and sharing collections and digital scholarship. I’m going to discuss my explorations with Omeka and Scalar and the relative advantages and disadvantages I found in both. I’m also going to touch on fair use questions related to the transformation of artistic works, a point discussed within the copyright texts we read that I find particularly interesting and complex. So this post might be a little more disjointed than most.

Omeka is a “free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions.”[1] Omeka is designed for digital collections and is directed towards academic use. Ease of use for non-IT professionals is its major advantage. As I thought about how I might use Omeka, I searched for a way to connect an Omeka site to a WordPress site. For for my own purposes, it makes sense to me to try to connect my scholarly projects to my main website, for ease and simplicity of access (as well as a desire to be somewhat minimalist and strategic about my online presence). In this search I’ve found two different forum threads pointing towards a number of different ways to integrate at least a few of the features of the platforms. In this Google User Group thread, user Kristopher Kelly suggests a kind of workaround that wouldn’t integrate the sites so much as give the appearance to users that the sites are one. Kelly writes, “The easiest way would be to just install both WordPress and Omeka side by side and have them served from different VirtualHosts.  Then you would make sure your WordPress theme is styled the same as your Omeka theme so that they look like they are a single site.  Then just add a link to the Omeka theme’s navigation that points at your WordPress install and vice versa.  This isn’t real integration but it gives that illusion to the people accessing your site.  It might be a bit annoying to manage though if you later on decide to change the way your Omeka site looks.”[2]

On a rather dated Omeka forum, a number of users suggest a single sign-on plugin for Omeka and WordPress (something I was wishing for myself). Though one commenter (our friend Kris Kelly again!) notes “WordPress has an OpenID plugin, so if someone were to write an OpenID plugin for Omeka, presumably that would take care of authentication for both.”[3]

I did find a different plugin for displaying an Omeka feed on WordPress, but it was last updated 3 years about and has less that 10 active users, which doesn’t particularly compel me to try it out at this point.[4]

The best answer I’ve found in this arena comes from Omeka user ebellempire in this forum on featuring Omeka exhibits in WordPress. ebellempire says:

I’ve been toying around with different ways to integrate WordPress and Omeka for our site at and just thought I would share one handy approach for doing so. Aside from creating matching themes for each platform, this seems like it might be a next step for some projects.

In WordPress, you need two plugins (or possibly 3 – see below):

Featured Content Showcase

Page Links To

Featured Content Showcase (FCS) adds a slideshow to your WordPress theme that you can use to easily feature posts using the WP post thumbnail feature (version 2.9+). Page Links To (PLT) adds the ability to override the URL of a post or page so that it redirects somewhere else (e.g. to an Omeka Exhibit).

Just create a “dummy” post with a thumbnail image, a title and brief description, mark it featured according to the FCS instructions and redirect the post to your exhibit using the PLT instructions. Pretty easy.

If you don’t want the dummy posts to appear in your main blog feed or other areas of your site, you can use the Category Visibility plugin ([5]

If I come across the time to give this a go this semester, I’ll post here about my findings and results.

Scalar is “a free, open source authoring and publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online. Scalar enables users to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose them with their own writing in a variety of ways, with minimal technical expertise required.”[6] In Scalar, you can create paths whereby people travel through your content, utilizing the ways in which people already interact with web texts to predetermine connections and relationships. In class, we explored one of Scalar’s functions that seems particular suited to the type of e-book/web scholarship that Scalar is intended to present. Despite the author’s control over determining the navigational paths for users, Scalar also has a function that allows users to determine their own path based on built-in visualizations of a website’s structure. Though I’m not quite certain to what extent I’ll use Scalar in the near future, it seems a valuable tool for presenting online scholarship [relatively] easily and creatively.

Jumping to a different topic entirely: In Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities: An Issues Report, the authors discuss a handful of cases on whether appropriative art has infringed copyright, noting that judicial opinion has become more lenient in the application of fair use in visual arts cases and that artists who could provide a convincing narrative for their appropriation typically had more control over the outcomes of their cases. “Typically”, though not always, as the Prince v. Cariou decision demonstrates, with its language specifying, “What is critical is how the work in question appears to the reasonable observer, not simply what an artist might say about a particular piece or body of work.”[7] The authors conclude by asserting that the overall sparseness of legal precedent leads to an “exaggerated sense of risk” about the uncertainties in determining fair use for appropriative art–a sense of risk that might be alleviated by developing best practices in among those community members.[8]

To that end, the CAA has a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use in the Visual Arts. It’s section on “Making Art” describes and validates the longtime practices of artists’ referencing and incorporation of other artists’ work. It asserts the principle that “Artists may invoke fair use to incorporate copyrighted material into new artworks in any medium” while noting that artists should: (1) avoid uses of existing copyrighted material that do not “generate new artistic meaning” (2) justify their artistic objective (3) avoid “suggesting that copyrighted elements are original to them” and (4) cite the source unless they have an articulable reason for not doing so.[9]

One case that may help to demonstrate (and perhaps complicate, to some extent) this set of best practices involves the Yale MFA graduate Zac Arctander’s appropriation of a feminist work by Arabelle Sicardi and Tayler Smith, featuring transgender actress and model Hari Nef. About a year ago, Sicardi and Smith found their 2014 work Cheeks in The New Yorker credited to Arctander. Though Arctander’s use and transformation of the image legally falls under fair use, his failure to credit Sicardi and Smith certainly contravenes the CAA’s “best practices” and, in so doing, serves to reinscribe rather than undermine the traditional veiling of work created by women and queer artists in preference to that of established white male artists. As Sicardi commented, “we’re going to be written out of the authorship in Arctander’s Yale MFA gallery exhibition and accompanying New Yorker piece—like many women before us.”[10]


“About.” Accessed February 7, 2016.
Accessed February 7, 2016.!topic/omeka-dev/OWrFTXGChm0
Accessed February 7, 2016.
Accessed February 7, 2016.
Accessed February 7, 2016.
“About Scalar.” Accessed February 7, 2016.
Patricia Aufderheide, et al. Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities: An Issues Report (College Art Association, 2014), 24. Accessed February 7, 2016.
Ibid., 26.
“Making Art.” In Code of Best Practices in Fair Use in the Visual Arts (College Art Association, 2015). Accessed February 7, 2016.
Sarah Cascone, “Imitating Richard Prince: Yale Graduate Zac Arctander Appropriates Feminist Photography,” Artnet News, June 25, 2015. Accessed February 7, 2015.