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Day of Digital Archives: McLuhan “The [digital] medium is [no longer] the [only] message.” 2011/10/06

Posted by nydawg in Digital Archives, Digital Archiving, Digital Preservation, Education, Information Technology (IT), Media.
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Day of Digital Archives October 6, 2011 Marshall McLuhan: “The Medium Is the Message?” or “The [digital] medium is [no longer] the [only] message.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of “the new spokesman of the electronic age”, Marshall (Understanding Media) McLuhan, and digital archivists should take a moment to think about how media, digital and analog, hot and cool, and in many different formats change our jobs, lives and responsibilities. With threats of technological obsolescence, vendor lock-in, hardware failure, bit rot and link rot, non-backwards compatible software, and format and media obsolescence, digital archivists need a system to accurately describe digital objects and assets in their form and function, content, subject, object and context. If we miss key details, we run the risk of restricting access in the future because, for example, data may not be migrated or media refreshed as needed. By studying and understanding media, digital archivists can propose a realistic and trustworthy digital strategy and implement better and best practices to guarantee more efficiency from capture (and digitization or ingest) and appraisal (selection and description), to preservation (storage) and access (distribution).

Over the last ten, forty, one hundred and twenty thousand years, we have crossed many thresholds and lived through many profound media changes– from oral culture to hieroglyphic communications to the alphabet and the written word, and from scrolls to books, and most recently transiting from the Atomic Age (age of atoms) to the Information Age (era of bits). While all changes were not paradigm shifts, many helped shift currencies of trust and convenience to establish new brand loyalties built on threats of imminent obsolescence and vendor lock-in. As digital archivists, we stand at the line separating data from digital assets, so we need to ensure that we are archiving and preserving the assets and describing the content, technical and contextual metadata as needed.

Today, Day of Digital Archives, is a good day to consider Marshall McLuhan’s most famous aphorism, “The medium is the massage,” and update it for the Information Age. In a nutshell, McLuhan argues that “the medium is the message” because an electric light bulb (medium) is pure information (light). He goes on to state: “This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the “content” of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph.” (Understanding Media, 23-24) But in the Information Age, the [digital] medium is [no longer] the [only] message. Every born-digital or digitized file is a piece in an environment in which it was created or is accessed, and needs to be described on multiple planes to articulate technical specifications (hardware & software versions, operating system, storage media, file format, encryption) as well as its content. For archivists and librarians describing content, the medium and the message, many use MARC, DublinCore and VRA Core are guides, but PBCore provides a richly defined set of technical, content and Intellectual Property metadata fields to ensure all stakeholders, including IT staff will be able to efficiently access, copy or use the asset (or a copy).

With More Product, Less Process [MPLP] the prevailing processing strategy, many libraries, archives and museums encourage simplified descriptions to catalog digital objects, but these generic descriptions (e.g. moving image, video or digital video) do not provide the most critical information to ensure future users can watch the video online, on an iPad or with a DVD player (or VHS player or film projector). Until digital objects and assets are described in their granular, multi-dimensional digital splendor, we are hurting ourselves and archival access in the future. Once we understand that the medium and message are split into many different categories, we can focus descriptive metadata on critical access points (subject, format or function), and we will not need to panic and makework every time a new [moving image] format [or codec] gains temporary popularity. With better description and critical appraisal at ingest, digital archivists will understand that the medium, the message and the content, subject, structure, form, format and other aspects are all integral parts. At that point we will start to change the commonly-held mindset that “The [digital] medium is [no longer] the [only] message.” 

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DMCA, DRM and The unFair Use Act 2011/09/09

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Copyright, Digital Preservation, Information Literacy, Intellectual Property, Media, Privacy & Security.
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A few weeks ago, I reserved a copy of a Clay Shirky e-Book to take with me to Chicago.  When the book became available from NYPL, I was excited and hoped it would be a DRM (Digital Rights Management)-free PDF copy so I could download it (click the emailed link) to my netbook and transfer it to my eReader Tablet.  (It was my first time, so I was clueless.)  Oh well.  Obviously you can’t do that. . . .  or maybe you can, on a Sony eReader and the York Library.

Yesterday an old friend on facebook asked about borrowing eComic Books with the intent of ultimately preserving on some portable medium.  So I was intrigued enough to do a little research on DRM and found this informative piece from the ASIS&T Bulletin website: “Digital rights management (DRM) is commonly defined as the set of technological protection measures (TPM) by which rights holders prevent the use of digital content they license in ways that could compromise the commercial value of their products.  Restrictions on such uses as downloading, printing, saving and emailing content are encoded directly in the products or the hardware needed to use them and are therefore in immediate effect.”

The whole article is worth reading, but this one part caught my eye: “The New York Public Library (NYPL), for instance, has been considering bringing its digitized collection of dance and performance videos closer to the public outside the NYPL system as long as it is possible to restrict access to this online content to library locations only. These examples show that DRM may actually provide opportunities to expand access to online materials in ways previously not possible.”  The essay continues by examining the DMCA and its relation to DRM, pointing out that “Since the DMCA was enacted in 1998, the Library of Congress has enforced exceptions three times – in 2000, 2003 and 2006 – and was scheduled to do so again in 2009. Of the six exceptions passed in 2006, one specifically allows film and media studies professors to circumvent TPM to make film clip compilations for coursework using DVD copies held by their institution’s film-studies library. A movement has been underway to expand this exception to include K-12 educators, all subject areas and all legally obtained copies.”

And to give you a sense of what is at stake, the author writes “In February 2007, the Fair Use Act was introduced in Congress, but never passed. It would have codified into law all six exceptions from 2006, which are currently rule-made and remain subject to periodic reviews. The Fair Use Act would have permitted the circumvention of TPM for, among other cases, (1) access to public domain works, (2) access to works of public interest for criticism, scholarship, reporting or research, (3) compilations of educational film clips and (4) preservation in libraries. The latter is of particular importance as the various media with historical content, including DVDs, begin to deteriorate. Smith argued that what frightens publishers about the Fair Use Act is that, if implemented, it would render ineffectual the anti-circumvention rules. Fair use would constitute an exception so broad that decisions regarding the right to circumvent would often be made after the actual circumvention. If a content owner objected, the user could take the matter to court, and only then would a judge decide whether fair use can justify that particular circumvention. The Fair Use Act would thus defeat the anti-circumvention rule’s self-help purpose.”

So in other words, the encryption that libraries are using is controlling access to their eBooks, and the anti-copy encryption that companies are using on their deteriorating DVDs are conspiring with the law to keep libraries from providing open access in the future to our resources.  I say instead of “Fair Use Act”, we need a “Fair Copy Act” so libraries will be free to begin their media refreshment, digital migration and whatever they need to do to make sure their media collections do not become time capsules, moments of time captured on obsolete media formats.