We’re still in the early stages of digital history, and I’m optimistic that copyright issues will eventually get worked out for the most part. Intellectual property has always been protected in some way with each new type of media.
On the surface, it might seem like plagiarism has become easier, but really it is now infinitely harder- especially as more secondary sources become digitized and more start off in the world as born-digital sources. Now, with programs such as turnitin.com, searching for plagiarized work is easier.
The tougher area, I believe, is with photographs, which historians use as sources all the time. With the advent of digital photography, and the almost complete disappearance of original negatives, it is much harder to properly protect photographs. It’s easy to copy and paste a picture, and use Photoshop to get rid of watermarks or manipulate the work in some way. Historians of the future may have a difficult time trying to properly cite the original photographer from copies. And, digital makes it much easier to transform a picture. How can historians deal with that? Can the integrity of any digital photograph really be trusted? Of course, that topic goes a little beyond this week’s discussion.
In regards to secondary literature, some of the same problems exist, but it’s much easier to word-search a document to discover where somebody else may have plagiarized or manipulated an original work. I’m not an expert in digital stuff, but as far as I know, there aren’t many similar things that can be done with photograph sources- or if there are, they need to get more attention.