SCOTLAND’S first national Makar, the poet Edwin Morgan, died in 2010 without achieving one of his ambitions, namely the creation of a digital collection of his unpublished work.

The man who was also Glasgow’s first poet laureate wanted his 16 scrapbooks, correspondence and handwritten drafts of poems to be publicly available during his lifetime.

Sadly, he died before that could be achieved and what has been called a “copyright black hole” is now preventing the digitisation of much of his unpublished material.

Morgan’s poetry ranged from The Billy Boys in 1968 to the Poem for the Opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Yet though these and many other poetical works were published, Morgan had a large amount of unpublished material which the Edwin Morgan estate and the University of Glasgow have tried to make accessible to the rest of the world.

Now a web resource has been launched explaining the obstacles inherent in current copyright law which have made the digitisation of cultural heritage collections, such as Morgan’s, virtually impossible.

The resource has been developed by Kerry Patterson, project officer for the Digitising the Edwin Morgan Scrapbooks project at the University of Glasgow, where Morgan was a student and lecturer in the Department of English Literature.

Patterson warns that current copyright regulations are “preventing the digitisation of cultural heritage collections” because of so-called “orphan” works – material that is still protected by copyright law but for which the owner cannot be located.

She explained: “If permissions cannot be secured because rights holders cannot be contacted, institutions may simply avoid socially beneficial uses of these ‘orphans’. But, when decisions about the digitisation of heritage collections are shaped by the copyright status of the material itself, this skews the digital cultural record.”

The EU Orphan Works Directive 2012 and the Orphan Works Licensing Scheme (Owls) require a diligent search for every orphan work that is to be digitised.

The Glasgow study is the first major UK project to consider the concept of diligent search since the Directive and Owls came into effect.

Patterson said: “With respect to the 16 scrapbooks created by Edwin Morgan, we estimate that it would take one researcher over eight years to undertake the diligent search activity, at a cost of more than £185,000.

“In this respect, they evidence the very real phenomenon of the so-called 20th century black hole, where collections containing work from the mid- to-late 20th century are less likely to be digitised for public consumption.”