A Margaret Thatcher Library and Museum?

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It seems I may have spoken too soon in my last post.

In that post I mentioned the international copyright discrepancy which meant that the only public domain work on Margaret Thatcher’s author page was one released by the Federal Government of the United States.  Modern US Presidents each have a federally operated library making such historical materials available.  It seems like there may be hope of a British equivalent after all. (NB: Technically, there is one already, the Gladstone Library in Wales, but they are rare and I don’t believe that one is quite the same thing.)

A Margaret Thatcher Library and Museum Project has recently been announced.  It was inspired by and will be modelled on the Ronald Reagan Library in California and, if it goes ahead, it will set up a similar institution in central London.  It was the idea of Donal Blaney, chief executive of Conservative Way Forward, in 2009 and is supported by members of the Conservative Party (including some secretaries of state, so this might actually happen).

The Thatcher Library is currently only proposed, although it appears to have significant backing and funding already.  I have not seen any confirmation about the library’s contents yet.  The US libraries are run as part of the National Archives & Records Administration, while the UK equivalent will be a private foundation, separate from the UK’s National Archives (although pre-Hoover US libraries are in a similar state).  How that affects the material from Margaret Thatcher’s premiership held by the Archives is unknown; The Times suggests that the Library may hold facsimiles.  There is also the Thatcher Archive at Cambridge University and The Margaret Thatcher Foundation, which cover similar ground.

It also remains to be seen just how much like a US presidential library this institution will be.  That all federal government documents are in the public domain in that country is a result of SCOTUS case law and eventual formal codification in US law.  There is nothing similar in the UK and there is no guarantee that the Thatcher Library will emulate this aspect of the US system.

Nevertheless, this could be an important step forward for the open culture movement in the United Kingdom.  Maybe one day Wikimedia UK will even be arranging a Wikimedian in Residence there and Wikisource will finally have a fuller bibliography on Margaret Thatcher’s author page.

Margaret Thatcher and the oddities of copyright

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Portrait photograph of Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher in 1981 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The recent, sad death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has highlighted an odd juxtaposition of international copyright laws. (Yes, this is yet another copyright post.) Her author page received 95 page views on 8th April, which is about the same traffic it usually gets in an entire month. However, the page only links to two works, one of which I have now tagged as a copyright violation (her famous “the lady’s not for turning” conference speech, which is probably under copyright until the early 2080’s).

The somewhat odd situation being highlighted is due to the other work on that page. I transcribed and added it not long ago. It’s a memcon, a memorandum of a conversation, with President Gerald Ford before Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister. This document was made available by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, part of the American presidential library system. It is in the public domain because all works by officers of the Federal Government of the United States, made as part of their official duties, are in the public domain under United States law. So, it would appear that the only way to read any of the works of Margaret Thatchers, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on Wikisource is via the government of the United States of America.

Fortunately, there is also a link to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website, which does have a complete, online collection of all of her speeches, interviews, etc. So they are not lost or hidden but they aren’t free. It is not necessarily a problem, bar potentially limiting distribution and preventing things like crowd-sourced translation. It is, nevertheless, still a very odd position in which to be.