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.


Unknown said...

Which calls to mind the ugly spectre of DRM. Do you encourage its application -- which limits the sharing of the work (or at least makes the illegal sharing slightly more difficult) but also limits the access to it, especially if formats change -- or should copyright owners learn to accept certain inherent risks with the electronic media?

Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) had an interesting point regarding his web-production of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. He said that some people would watch it at the official site (and link), some would pirate it and move/host it elsewhere -- archiving it in a new spot, essentially -- while some would wait for the DVD, and a lot of them would be the same people. One should note this stands in stark contrast to MPAA opinion.

It's also not a new question. It's pretty certain that people were running around in Gutenberg's time claiming that the world would come to an end, because anybody could own a copy of the Bible. We got used to the printed word and the ability to commodify and control it, but it was different and hard for them. We've had a few hundred years at it with books. The Web hasn't even had a quarter century.

As for the question of ownership, once a book was printed, anyone can (generally) own it and keep it safe. Electronic information is trickier. Without archiving, there can be no record and no safeguards. For centuries, history revisionists had to burn books and pray no new copies surfaced. In a world merely composed of links to the 'official' source, it's all to easy to imagine that source changing. Even unintentional losses -- a server meltdown with inadequate backups -- can and does happen, resulting in irretrievable loss of information.

I think the legality will (and needs to) be tested. I think new rules will be established, taking into account such things as intent, claims and profiteering, as opposed to the old 'it wasn't yours... you can't store the information except in this format/container' mindset we've evolved with books. Things have to change, just like they did with print.

Christina Neigel said...

In response to Leanne's comments, these are interesting times! The crafting of new legislation and policy should be very closely watched as law makers can be heavily influenced by lobbyists. Bill C-61 and its latest upcoming iteration are things that Canadians need to watch and comment on. Right now, most of us are just really confused about what, in the digital realm, is legal and what is not. Accommodations to preserve information for the sake of society need to be made. However, does this open the field to abuse? How can we even monitor abuses?

Unknown said...

Interesting timing on this. There is another aspect of digital copyright that just popped up on another blog I watch by someone right on the forefront of these issues: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/02/quick-argument-summary.html

I find it interesting that it is the author -- the copyright holder -- that is saying 'let people use it', whereas his agent is the one crying foul. As you said, what the rules could end up being may depend on who whines loudest to the lawmakers.

Further to what I was saying earlier, print changed us from a storytelling society to a fact-checking one -- history wasn't so much a story anymore, it was something you recorded, with 'just the facts' ma'am. I think the rules are going to (eventually) change because our entire mindset is going to change.

I don't think we'll ever completely stamp out abuse -- we haven't with print, after all. People still plagiarise, they still pirate print books. There will be 'grey areas' -- like the Kindle issue -- that people will argue back and forth until it becomes moot.

Christina Neigel said...

Ah yes, the Kindle 2 release has unleashed new banter on ownership. The Authors Guild states that it is deeply concerned over Amozon's new device and its "text to speech" ability and its impact on the audiobook industry. The Guild is keeping a watchful eye on new developments.

Unknown said...

The counter-concern is how opposition to that would affect adaptive technologies, such as screen-readers. If it would violate copyright to have a text read aloud, would those not fall under the same strictures? How do you write the law so that it doesn't infringe on those with disabilities but guarantees them the same access as everyone else? Or will they be forced to buy alternative formats that might not always be available?

Unknown said...

Oh, and have you heard about the "Guilt Upon Accusation" laws that are about to be enacted in New Zealand?

This seems like a very scary application of law and -- as some people have pointed out -- will be watched carefully by lawmakers in other countries.

C-61 is scary enough, but there are huge opportunities for something like the above to be abused -- and in ways librarians should be aware of, too.