A MATTER OF COPYRIGHT

Doing research for an historical novel is not the same as doing research for an academic paper. The scholar's quotations from the work of others must be free of error and his citations accurate and in a standard format. The historical novelist is a scavenger, searching for hints of motives, for scraps of half told stories, for speculative solutions to unsolved mysteries and for insights into the life and times of his chosen characters. I skimmed through many pages. Where I felt the material merited further study, I ordered photocopies. I made many handwritten notes, sometimes transcribing them into computer files. In the early stages there was little order in my work for I had only the vaguest concept of the direction my writing would take me.

There were no Internet Service Providers in Accra when I got started and if there had been, they would not have been of no use to me for I worked in a remote office without a telephone. The idea of setting up a companion web site never entered my head.

By the time the novel had been accepted for electronic publication, I was using the Internet regularly, sometimes for several hours a day. I decided to turn my research files into a web site. I soon encountered several problems. Citations, hand-written on photocopies, were seldom complete. Sometimes I found it difficult to decide whether the material which I had transcribed from handwritten notes was an accurate copy or my own paraphrase. Then there was this matter of copyright. Na´vely, I believed that everything I was doing fell within the definition of fair copying. Fortunately I decided to search the Internet for the latest on copyright law. Utterly confused by the complexity of what I found, I then decided to play safe and request permission for practically everything I proposed to use. But surely all those eighteenth century travelers' tales must be in the public domain by now? Not so, it seems: if they have been republished recently, the new publisher might have acquired copyright. What if the original publisher is no longer trading, or has been subject to successive take-overs; and, at the same time the author is dead? In such cases how does one go about finding the owner of the copyright?

I have done my best, sending off several hundred e-mail messages and letters. Most authors and publishers have generously granted me at least provisional permission to quote from their work, sometimes extensively, free of charge. One or two newspapers have demanded exorbitant fees for posting old articles from their archives for just 14 days. In several cases I have had no reply to my request.

My motive in setting up this website is serious and honourable. Before publishing it to a wider public, I invited all copyright holders known to me to visit it.

If I have inadvertently included any copyright material without requesting permission (perhaps because I have been unable to identify the owner of the copyright or to discover his/her address) the copyright owner need only send me a request to remove the material. I undertake to do so without delay.