Historical GIS (Geographical Information Systems)-based projects such as the Vision of Britain project at the University of Portsmouth can be extremely rich resources, visually and statistically, but carry extra layers of complexity.
In terms of copyright, there are several layers of rights that need to be cleared for such resources. First there are the maps which are scanned in; secondly there are the administrative boundaries to define regions, units, places, counties, parishes or whatever appropriate spatial unit; thirdly there are gazeeteers which provide indices to changing names for these spatial units; and finally there is the actual data that fills up such units, whether this be mortality rates, election data or population reports.
The resource creator, or the institution he works for, needs to get permission from all these rights owners in order to digitise, deliver back-up and preserve the data. A time-consuming task at the best of times. The ideal solution of convincing them all to use Creative Commons so as to licence the rights to the resource creator is nice in theory but difficult in practice.
Perhaps a clearing-house or licensing facility is needed on behalf of the educational sector who can a) obtain the necessary permissions or b) even act as a rights-holder for essential GIS data such as gazeeters and boundary data. This would give more time to the academic specialists to build GIS resources without getting caught up in all the copyright obstacles.