Erin Dickey

Copyright, Digital Humanities

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.

EDIT, 2/15/16: Here’s the link to my digital project #1, using Omeka:

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]


  1. “About.” Accessed February 7, 2016.
  2. Accessed February 7, 2016.!topic/omeka-dev/OWrFTXGChm0
  3. Accessed February 7, 2016.
  4. Accessed February 7, 2016.
  5. Accessed February 7, 2016.
  6. “About Scalar.” Accessed February 7, 2016.
  7. 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.
  8. Ibid., 26.
  9. “Making Art.” In Code of Best Practices in Fair Use in the Visual Arts (College Art Association, 2015). Accessed February 7, 2016.
  10. Sarah Cascone, “Imitating Richard Prince: Yale Graduate Zac Arctander Appropriates Feminist Photography,” Artnet News, June 25, 2015. Accessed February 7, 2015.


  1. Erin,

    I find the example you provide about the Sicardi/Smith//Arctander work(s) really compelling. This is a good demonstration of the fact that, often, situations dealing with copyright and fair use are far more complex than just the legal matter at hand, involving social and political factors as well. As you point out, Arctander’s use of the Sicardi and Smith’s original work is, technically, legal, but that does not take into account the broader context (and there’s *always* a broader context). This appropriation occurred in a visual art system that has a long and gendered history. In many ways Arctander is able to successfully stage this appropriation as his own artwork because he’s in a position of power (as a male artist) where his creative decisions have a different value and authority than artists not in that position of power. Obviously, the legal codes of fair use cannot be tailored to meet every possible context—which is also why they are left fairly flexibly and open to interpretation—but there should clearly be other triggers in place that at least trip up actions like Arctander’s if not obstruct them. Perhaps this is the role of art criticism—or at least art news sources like the article you link to—which can at least call out Arctander for his actions, even if that doesn’t reverse the effects of positive attention he has already received by displaying the work as wholly his own. This certainly doesn’t solve the problem or challenge the system in any real way, a system that allows white male artists like Arctander to build successful careers while marginalizing women and queer artists. Perhaps CAA’s best practices is a good jumping off point for a way to consider ethical and responsible ways for borrowing in art making – there are definitely still situations in which a “permissions culture” attitude are appropriate, and artists/scholars/other users might also take into account the gender, race, class, and other socio-political factors when contemplating when or how to use a work not their own.

    1. I was also struck by the particular kind of artistic “transformative” fair use that Arctander applied to the work and how that also inscribes a kind of masculinization of art practice over a complexly “othered” gendered work (by female and queer artists, featuring a trans model). The Rauschenbergian Ab-Ex freely painted brushstrokes, the obscuring of gender difference signified in the original work (esp. the color and position of the face makeup from the source work), also contribute to a reading of this particular kind of appropriation as a form of artistic oppression and omission from a privileged artist. So over and above the fair use issues, we have some of the systemic constructions of the art world playing into the display (Yale, Ivy League elite and art-world approved direct pipeline to fame for lots of white males–and the occasional but too infrequent person of color–good for you and your privilege!), the first critical reception (The New Yorker–where some 95% of the bylines are male names–good for you and your privilege!), the history of modernism in art (the so very aggressive masculinity of “canonical” Ab-Ex modernism and the “expressive vitality” of the brushstroke, more subtly critiqued by the better artist Rauschenberg in his pop and painted collages, good for you and your privilege!), and then the structure of the legal system around copyright (transformative, you betcha!, and judges–again how many of those are elite, white, and male–approve of that, good for you and your privilege!). So we have a whole matrix of issues around this piece and its appearance in the media that speak to gender trouble in the contemporary art world.

  2. Hi Erin, That is an interesting solution you read about on the forum where it appears to users that two sites, in this case your WordPress and your Omeka sites, are one. I know am always annoyed when I encounter that kind of thing as a user. It feels like trickery! But that’s just my gut reaction. I can see how that could smooth things out for you as you provide your content and have the same types of viewers in mind. Good luck with whichever page integration you decide on. I will be curious to see how it goes for you, both in setting it up and maintaining your pages. I sort of wish I had used Omeka for my Digital Project #1 instead of Scalar. I chose Scalar because I was so attached to the easy metadata import from other users’ digital collections, and the built-in visualization tool you mentioned is a unique way to give your reader a map of sorts, but I think I found the overall bookmaking process confusing as far as how my pages are ordered. Which did you ultimately choose for Digital Project #1?

    1. Oops–looks like I missed that in the syllabus entirely. Thanks for alerting me! Here’s the link to my project, in which I collected just a few examples (video, text, and hyperlink) related to Systems Art, broadly construed: I’ll update this blog post with the link.

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