Archival of Web Artifacts and Digital Commodities

The internet is, as a whole, an important representation of worldwide human culture.  While some organizations such as the Internet Archive set out to preserve the web as a whole, much if it is not recoverable for various reasons – including practicality of storage media and copyright laws.  This topic occurred to me in the past few days when I attempted to load up a video on why one would want to become an archivist.  It was highly recommended to me.  Of course, the video link was already dead and non-recoverable.  I don’t know if that was the point or not – perhaps as some sort of high concept experiment – but it was rather striking and ironic nonetheless.  Exabytes of information are being produced and sadly rapidly lost thanks to the disposable nature of web-only born-digital content.

The issue in many ways comes down to problems with censorship.  Not censorship of ideas, but censorship via the use of copyright laws as a way to bar the transaction of information.  I still find it surprising and sad that there is no way in this country to legally transfer a software license between two adults without using the software author as a mediator – if that is even possible at all.  There’s a lack of empowerment when it comes to digital products that has frightening implications considering the progression of digital commerce.  As more and more media is digitized or even born digital, the lack of the application of a law similar to the First Sale process could hurt consumers and archivists at the benefit of large publication corporations, instead of artists or other content producers.

Even so-called “free” media is not truly free.  Items in the public domain published online still require money to provide storage media and internet access.  Thus, no digital form of information is ever completely free of cost in some way.

There is of course, hope – ICT allows authors to self-publish, which can allow them to cheaply make their content available for consumers and archivists.  The problem is that a lot of the greatest works of art or science still fall under the laws of copyright that prevent facilitating access.

Society affects technology and technology affects society, but I still have not heard any real progress on the front of digital ownership and don’t quite expect to.  Property laws have woefully lagged behind when it comes to digital commodities.

So who pays?  What happens when free media are no longer hosted and expensive media cannot be afforded?  What happens when a company stops publishing a piece of media but refuses to put it into the public domain?  The answer is: all of us suffer.  “Ask not who the bell tolls – it tolls for thee” is the phrase that states that all men and women will one day die.   The death of every human being diminishes us.  The death of any piece of information diminishes us as well.

Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives By John Palfrey, Urs Gasser
A Politics of Intellectual Property: Environmentalism for the Net?Author(s): James Boyle