case study

Case study

Completing a digital assignment on Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Entrance to Shakespeare's Birthplace sign-13Feb2005.jpg

Theresa Brown, is a first year, registered student taking a Media Studies course at the local university. She is preparing an assignment on Hamlet by William Shakespeare. She is required to publish the assignment online, and also prepare a slide show with an audio summary. The university provides a hosted website for each of its students in the course but access to the site is restricted to registered students taking the course who are provided with password access. A number of students do not have affordable access to the internet at home, so Theresa wants to include local copies of supporting resources she has found on the open web for download from the website that will only be accessible through the institution’s local network. She plans to include the following resources:

  1. The full text of Hamlet edited by Charles Kean who died in 1868.
  2. An image of the portrait of Hamlet, by William Morris Hunt (1824 – 1879) housed by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
  3. A digital copy of the Cobbe portrait of William Shakespeare recently discovered in March 2009. (See press release published by The Guardian.)
  4. A local copy of the BLC production of Hamlet from Youtube.
  5. Theresa has compiled a slide show with an audio summary which she will host on Slideshare. Her slide show was based on her own original research work drawing on a winning essay published by Penguin on the Signet Essay Competition site, openly accessible on the web.

Question 3: Cobbe portrait of William Shakespeare


Copyright questions relating to the Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare

This question refers to this Cobbe portrait.

Choose the correct option. Afterwards, we suggest that you review the feedback on the incorrect options as these also contain valuable information.
  • Is the image protected by copyright?
    • Yes
      • Correct. The image is an artistic work (photograph) and is protected by copyright.
    • No
      • Incorrect. While the original is an unattributed work of art, the digital version of this image is protected by copyright as a creative work.
  • Who owns the copyright of the image?
    • Pubic domain
      • Incorrect. While the original artwork is unattributed, the painting has been dated to the time of Shakespeare’s life and would therefore be in the public domain. However, in this instance we need to establish the copyright of the photograph (not the original painting).
    • Alec Cobbe
      • Incorrect. The Cobbe Family own the original portrait which is in the public domain. However, Theresa wishes to use a copy of the photograph in her course, so the ownership of the portrait has no bearing on clearing copyright of the digital image.
    • Photographer
      • Incorrect. It would appear that the photograph of the Cobbe portrait was commissioned. Therefore we would need to establish the conditions of copyright for this commissioned photograph.
    • The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
      • Correct. This would be the best place to establish the copyright of the photograph. Most websites using the image with permission cite “The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the copyright holders”, which suggests that the Trust is the best source for information on ownership of the photograph.
  • Can Theresa use a copy of the photograph of the Cobbe portrait in her materials:
    • Yes
      • Incorrect. However, some advocates of the free culture would argue that restricting access to digital reproductions of works in the public domain is an assault on the public domain and will contend that the image should be used in protest of this practice.
    • No
      • Correct. Legally, Theresa must first clear copyright permissions before including a copy of this photograph in her course materials.