Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Internet Archiving - Illegal?

In pre-Internet years, most people understood archiving to be a process of preserving original data for future research and analysis. Since much of today's society is migrating to a "life" on the Web, many worry that the preservation of web sites is essential to capturing the thoughts and ideas of the developed world. Sounds reasonable, right? Yet, we run into a huge problem. A printed document, whether it is a personal letter or a published book is considered something which can be "owned" and "preserved". A web site, however, is something that carries its own unique problems for preservationists.

Because anything on the Web must be hosted by a server and hosts fade in and out of existence, there is no assurance that once an item is published, it will be preserved. Although much can befall printed works, their requirements for longevity are far more promising. More than one may be produced and owned. "Hosting" a book or document can be a simple as a providing shelf space or filing cabinet space. Photocopiers allow archivists to preserve deteriorating materials and so on. Rights to information published on the Web, is very different. One can easily link to a document but it is entirely different to house that document - even in the interests of preservation. There is a fine line between archiving information and "copying" information. At least, that is what evolving copyright legislation would have us believe....

To cache or not to cache, that is the question. Linking versus caching. What is legally acceptable? Should we be concerned? At what point does ownership begin to interfere with the enhancement of knowledge or does it? How do we preserve what we are creating on the Web and is it feasible? These are difficult questions that need to be mulled over and discussed. As information professionals, we need to consider what ramifications law has on our need to gather and disseminate information.