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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.” 


Three Screens and a Cloud: Netflix’s Qwikster, Facebook & Amazon 2011/09/23

Posted by nydawg in Copyright, Curating, Digital Archives, Digital Archiving, Information Literacy, Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property, Media.
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One of the most pressing and intimidating challenges digital archivists face today, is the fact that there is so much content offered in so many quick-changing distribution formats and accessible on short-lived storage media.  I found that the easiest way to describe this is “Three screens and a cloud” or as former Microsoft head Ray Ozzie put it: “how we consume IT is really shifting from a machine-centric viewpoint to what we refer to as three screens and a cloud:  the phone, the PC, and the TV ultimately, and how we deliver value to them.” [i would change that to IP, but hey, I’m not CEO of Microsoft.]

So as archivists who are concerned with the distribution and accessibility of our digital assets, it is important to ask early, “What format or what media will be required and who is the targeted end user on what appliance?”  In other words, you probably don’t want to send a hi-def Blu-Ray digital video stream meant for a big screen tv to a tiny smartphone!  Or you probably don’t want to stream a FlashVideo version to an iPad user.

But, on the other hand, archivists may not need to archive or preserve (for long-term functions) every possible variation of each format version (for smartphone or netbook (iPad) or television).   By articulating what is really needed, archivists can streamline processes and avoid making mountains where molehills are sufficient.  Archivists who can see the forest for the trees will be able to describe fewer assets more completely so that specific needles can be found within the haystacks.

This leads me to the real groundshifting news stories that happened this week.  The first one is that NetFlix is splitting its DVDs-by-mail service from its streaming.  According to Huffington Post: “In a post on The Netflix Blog that went up Sunday night, the company’s CEO, Reed Hastings, announced that Netflix would split its DVD-by-mail service and its streaming-video service into two companies. The new DVD-only company, called “Qwikster,” will be completely separate from the streaming business. Hastings also expressed contrition for the way the company rolled out its recent price hike, which alienated many customers. . . . “It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology.”

Well, obviously, many people are up in arms and think this is the biggest boneheaded marketing move since Coke introduced New Coke! The NY Times’s David Pogue does a pretty good job of getting his gander up as he parses the Netflix apology without fully acknowledging the economics of the “streaming” game.  I won’t get too much into the legal issues (which I don’t fully understand), but I do remember when I was working in “streaming media” as Senior Encoder at SonicNet (and Streamland), licensing costs and marketing dollars generally shift from one medium (vhs, CD or radio) to another (DVD, streaming media or satellite radio).   It seems inevitable that NetFlix realizes, as Blockbuster did years ago, that physical media will soon be obsolete, . . .  so they’re trying to split themselves in order to have different licensing deals with different stakeholders and end users. . . . . and Blockbuster, long-ago doomed, seeks to get in on the action too!

But ultimately, “An issue that both Netflix and Dish face, even when they don’t want to admit it, is the inconsistency of broadband connectivity across the United States.”

Another huge news story from this week was at f8 where Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced major Facebook renovations. ““Millions of people curate stories of their lives on Facebook every day and have no way to share them once they fall off your profile page…we have been working on ‘timeline’ all year…it’s the story of your life and completely new way to express yourself.  “It has three pieces: all your stories, your apps and a new way to express who you are.”  Zuckerberg said he wanted people to be able to share “their entire lives” on Facebook and have “total control” over how their content appeared online.”

Zuckerberg “also announced a series of partnerships with music, media and games companies –including Spotify, Netflix, Zynga [the maker of Farmville] and The Washington Post.”  So this brings us back to the idea of Netflix which  “announced it is integrating its video streaming service with Facebook — allowing users to watch videos on either site and see what people on their friends lists are viewing.  It will be available in 44 countries except in Netflix’s biggest market — the United States, because of the 1998 Video Privacy Protection Act that prohibits the disclosure of video sales or rental records, the company explained.”

So what does this all mean for “Three Screens and a Cloud?”  Well, it’s important to remember that “Netflix is the biggest driver of U.S. Internet traffic, according to one study. As Internet service providers begin capping or tiering their data plans, that could cause consumers to watch fewer streaming videos on Netflix, analysts say.”  So as phone companies begin capping data plans for distribution (streaming), then another part of the archival equation is the storage medium. . . . and, as many people know, the battle is in the Clouds!

Arab Spring Diplomatics & Libyan Records Management 2011/09/05

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Best Practices, Digital Archives, Digital Preservation, Electronic Records, Information Technology (IT), Media, Records Management.
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At 75th Annual Meeting of the SAA (Society of American Archivists) last week, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend many very interesting panels, speeches and discussions on archives, archival education, standards, electronic records, digital forensics, photography archives, digital media, and my mind is still reeling.   But when I heard this story on the news radio frequency, I needed to double-check.

As you all know, the Arab Springrevolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests in the Arab world. Since 18 December 2010 there have been revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt;
civil uprisings in BahrainSyria, &Yemen; major protests in AlgeriaIraqJordanMorocco, and

Omanand minor protests civil war in Libya resulting in the fall of the regime there; in

Kuwait, LebanonMauritaniaSaudi ArabiaSudan, and Western Sahara! Egypian President Hosni Mubarak resigned (or retired) and there’s a Civil War going on in Libya.   Meanwhile, with poor records management, documents were found in Libya’s External Security agency headquarters showing that the US was firmly on their side in the War on Terror:

“CIA moved to establish “a permanent presence” in Libya in 2004, according to a note from Stephen Kappes, at the time the No. 2 in the CIA’s clandestine service, to Libya’s then-intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa.  Secret documents unearthed by human rights activists indicate the CIA and MI6 had very close relations with Libya’s 2004 Gadhafi regime.

The memo began “Dear Musa,” and was signed by hand, “Steve.” Mr. Kappes was a critical player in the secret negotiations that led to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s 2003 decision to give up his nuclear program. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Kappes, who has retired from the agency, declined to comment.  A U.S. official said Libya had showed progress at the time. “Let’s keep in mind the context here: By 2004, the U.S. had successfully convinced the Libyan government to renounce its nuclear-weapons program and to help stop terrorists who were actively targeting Americans in the U.S. and abroad,” the official said.””


So I guess that means that if all of those documents from the CIA are secret, there would be no metric for tracing a record (at least on the US side).   In other words, every time a record is sent, copied or moved, a new version is created, but where is the original?  Depending on the operating system, the metadata may have a new Date Created.  How will anybody be able to find an authentic electronic record when it’s still stored on one person’s local system which is probably upgraded every few years?

There is a better way, a paradigm shift, and by looking at the Australian records continuum, “certainly provides a better view of reality than an approach that separates space and time”, we can find a better way so all [useless] data created is not aggregated.   With better and more appraisal, critical and analytical and technical and IP content, we can select and describe more completely the born digital assets and separate the wheat from the chaff, the needles and the haystacks, the molehills from the mountains, and (wait for it)  . . . see the forest for the trees.  By storing fewer assets and electronic records more carefully, we can actually guarantee better results.  Otherwise, we are simply pawns in the games of risk played (quite successfully) by IT Departments ensuring (but not insuring) the higher-ups that “we are archiving: we backup every week.” [For those who are wondering: when institutions “backup” they backup the assets one week, moves the tapes offsite and overwrite the assets the following week.  They don’t archive-to-tape for long-term preservation.]

Diplomatics may present a way for ethical archivists in to the world of IT, especially when it comes down to Digital Forensics.  But the point I’m ultimately trying to make, I think, is that electronic (or born digital) records management requires new skills, strategies, processes, standards, plans, goals and better practices than the status quo.  And this seems to be the big elephant in the room that nobody dares describe.

Errol Morris and Photo Archives 2011/09/04

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Filmmaker Errol Morris has been thinking about collecting, describing and using photographs in many different formats including one of my favorite documentary films “The Thin Blue Line” from 1988.  His book, Believing Is Seeing: Creating the Culture of Art, was reviewed in the NYTimes and is now available at bookstores everywhere (well, maybe not borders).  The NYTimes review starts out: “Likewise, “Believing Is Seeing,” though perceptive about photography, is fundamentally concerned with something very different: epistemology. Morris is chiefly interested in the nature of knowledge, in figuring out where the truth — in both senses — lies.

As that suggests, Morris believes in objective truth, and believes that people can grasp it — “even though,” as he has written elsewhere, “the world is unutterably insane.” The question then becomes how to coax an insane world into yielding up its truths, and “Believing Is Seeing” amounts to a provisional, ­pastiche-y, deeply interesting attempt at an answer.”

If you’re interested in getting a glimpse of some of those chapters and thoughts, you might want to check out some of his The Opinionator blogs including “It Was All Started by a Mouse (part 1)“, “Did My Brother Invent E-Mail with Tom Van Vleck?“, “The Ashtray“, ‘The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is’” and pretty much anything he has written, spoken, shot, edited, made or shared ever!  And then check out this book review podcast too.

Thoughts on Animation and Robert Breer, R.I.P. 2011/08/22

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Robert Breer

A few years ago, when I was studying film at the University of Rochester, I was reading Movie Journal by film critic/filmmaker Jonas Mekas, and was intrigued by various mentions of underground filmmaker/ animator Robert Breer.   The one piece I can still remember reading was from 1969 when Mekas announced that Breer was winner of the Max Ernst Prize for the film that “best corresponds to the avant-garde spirit” for his film 69 at the Oberhausen Film Festival.   The prize was the sculpture “La Femme” created and donated by Ernst himself!

Later, I happened to view a collection of his short films on a DVD (or was it VHS?) titled “Five and Dime Animator“, and I was hooked.  The man was a true visionary who found a simple way to create low-budget animated films.  His secret?  He used 4×6 index cards and snapped “frame-by-frame photographs of hand-drawn images”!  As I saw more and more of his stuff, I wanted to tell everyone about him and share  his films (on video).

After moving to New York, I attended a screening of his films at the Anthology Film Archives, and actually saw him stop the show, run up the aisle towards the projectionist frantically waving his arms and shouting “Stop!  It’s at the wrong speed!”  I was recounting this story to some friends and was happily surprised to learn that one of my oldest and closest friends actually studied with him (she calls him Bob Breer) at Cooper Union!  He profoundly affected the way I think about animation, but the man was also an artist.

So a few years ago (2002? or 2003?), I heard about a Robert Breer gallery opening, and I set out to attend.  At first, I didn’t know what was happening, but there were some of his paintings on the wall– which I examined closely– and little sculptures on the floor.  As I looked at the paintings, something in the room seemed bizarre.   I circled around, and started to look closely at one of the sculptures.  That’s when I realized what was happening: every sculpture was slowly moving across the floor of the gallery!  These were Robert Breer’s floats.  I had no idea, but it changed my idea of sculpture and animation.  At the time, I called them moving sculptures, but with his recent death, I now know that he called them “floats” and others called them “kinetic sculptures.”  Whatever they are called, I think they are incredible.

Robert Breer's Floats

As an archivist, I look at animation (and life)  in a similar way.   People are always moving and changing, and since there is no possibility of preserving or documenting every configuration of every part of every movement, we are left to catalog and describe whatever is most important.   In animation, an archivist is responsible for arranging and describing assets so different stakeholders will be able to find specific high-quality images for different purposes.  Since it would be impossible for anyone to describe every frame of every animated film (at 30 frames per second [NTSC] or 25 fps [PAL]), are are left to select and appraise the “significant” design files, usually backgrounds, characters and props.   Though this may not give a full and complete description, it provides an efficient way  to re-use images across time and space for a variety of purposes.   In other words, Breer’s films will be cataloged as films, but each index card could be preserved and described at the item-level without too much [useless] detail.

Anyway, I was sad to hear that Bob Breer died last week.   He really changed my perception about art, sculpture, function and even archival description!  Sure, minimalist animation does not require large budgets, but an artist with a vision and limited funds, can certainly create moving works.

Disney and Dali

One more thought about mixing animation and art.  A few years back, MOMA showed Destino, a long-rumored unfinished animated collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali.  Since I’ve always been a big fan of Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou (co-directed by Dali), I was intrigued, to say the least, about a surrealist artist collaborating with Disney within the Hollywood system.  That day, I watched the 6 minute film five times in a row!  Fortunately, Open Culture recently posted a version of Destino, available for your viewing pleasure (or horror)!  “The clip runs 6+ minutes and features music written by Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez and performed by Dora Luz.”

Libraries Outsource Digitization, Get Access, Give Away IP: Preservation Is Not a One-Time Cost 2011/08/21

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Archives, Digital Preservation, Information Technology (IT), Intellectual Property.
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One thing that still baffles me, is the idea (still taught in many library schools), that once done, digitization projects preserve materials forever.   Occasionally, there’s a few people who mention that “standards change” or “software becomes obsolete” or “media rot” or “links rot” or “bits rot” or ideas of “media refreshment” or “migration” or emulation or whatever, but mostly, the conventional wisdom is that when a collection is digitized it will remain accessible online and will be preserved “forever.”

So I was gratified to notice this important bit in the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access‘s Interim Report “Sustaining the Digital Investment:  Issues and Challenges of Economically Sustainable Digital Preservation” pdf (not the FINAL report):  “More than this, preservation is not a one-time cost; instead, it is a commitment to an ongoing series of costs, in some cases stretching over an indefinite time horizon.” (p. 18)  Since this is such an important point especially when so many digitization projects are funded using transient or “one-time” vehicles, I was a little disappointed that this point was ignored and was not included in the Final Report.

The closest their “Sustainable Economics for a Digital Planet: Ensuring Long-Term Access to Digital Information” Final Report comes to mentioning this is: “Decisions about longevity are made throughout the digital lifecycle. Bench scientists face a choice at the end of every research project about what to do with their data. . . . The curatorial team at a museum that is bringing down an exhibition for which many original images and design materials were created faces similar decisions about what to retain and whose responsibility it is to provide and fund long-term retention. Preservation decision makers run the gamut from university provosts, foundations, and philanthropic funders to anyone who has created a website that has potential value for reuse.” (p. 11)

So I saw this piece, “Step Easily into the Digital Future” on American Libraries Magazine which shows that this idea has taken hold among cash-starved libraries looking for an easy (and cheap!) way to digitize their collections once and for all.  Unfortunately, the trade-off seems to be that they are willing to pay for it AND let the digitizers keep the originals– while libraries can copy access copies. . . .  . Hmm.

“Libraries know the future is digital, but how do we get there in these times of shrinking budgets and staffs? In a tough economy, a collaborative approach makes digitization possible for many libraries. By joining a mass digitization collaborative, the historical society, museum, public library, or academic institution new to digitization can launch a small project and unlock the doors to their hidden collections for the first time; the larger university or cultural heritage institution can mount a large-scale project and quickly achieve a digitization goal at low cost.  The Lyrasis Mass Digitization Collaborative (MDC) is an example of a sustainable model that does not rely exclusively on grants or one-time funding; the collaborative works for libraries and cultural heritage institutions of all types and sizes.”

. . . “The MDC, administered by Lyrasis in partnership with the Internet Archive, is arguably the best deal going for libraries and similar institutions to get significant quantities of printed materials digitized and online-accessible very quickly and inexpensively,” said Gregory S. Sigman, acting librarian for the Music/Dance Library at Ohio University, in Lyrasis’s Solutions Magazine.

so how does it work?  It’s sounds so easy, as long as you don’t think too much about it?  (Wait, the MDC gets to own to Intellectual Property too?)  “Participating in the collaborative makes digitization easy for participants, whatever the size of their collection and budget, and whether or not they have experience and staff expertise in digitization. In the collaborative model, many steps along the way to digitization are already in place.

Participants do not need to purchase equipment, select a metadata schema or digitization standards, set up a technical infrastructure for digitization and delivery, or provide for hosting, storage, and preservation. They follow best practices and collection development guidelines established by the collaborative. The entire project workflow is already set up and streamlined. The process is extremely simple and conducive to very quick turnaround: Libraries place an order; select items for digitization; prepare metadata; and ship or deliver to the scanning center. The collaborative shares the new digital resources on the web through its partnership with the Internet Archive and the archive’s involvement in the Open Content Alliance. Participants may also download copies of the digital resources to add to their own digital collections.”

While cost-effective and efficient, passing off these responsibilities to third-parties will not necessarily help libraries for much longer.  As the Interim Report points out: “This preliminary finding (the authors note that their work is early and suggestive rather than exhaustive and definitive.) points to the importance of effective management
strategies early in the life cycle of information, confirming archivists long held belief, based on their experience, that preservation begins at creation. Not all material acquired may have been created with preservation in mind, however; the observation is most relevant for organizational settings where there is a requirement and a commitment to maintaining a record for the long-term. Further, acquisition and ingest tends to have a high setup cost, and particularly in the early days of digital preservation, every acquisition seems unique, requiring specialized lengthy analysis and processing strategies. Acquisition of at least partially processed material will become
more routine and, most likely, more standardized over time.”

Let’s hope so, but it might be helpful if the BRTF’s Final Report addressed many of the good ideas presented in the Interim Report, and libraries would begin to understand that the most cost-effective way to digitize collections (after initial start-up costs and equipment purchases) may be  DIY.

Oh, and meanwhile, Internet Archive Canada is laying off 75% of its staff!  “Though the office had initially experimented with automated scanning robots, the machines were unable to adapt to the wide variety of manuscripts and books. In 2005, the Internet Archive developed their own machines called Scribes, equipped with two high-resolution digital cameras poised above a v-shaped desk.  These machines require human operators to turn the pages, meaning that they are more expensive to run than automated robots, but can handle fragile texts. An experienced operator can turn and scan two pages every six seconds, but layoffs mean the number of operators will drop from 27 down to 11. Output is expected to drop significantly, from current levels of around 1,500 books a month to 250.”



Can IP Save Kodak?! 2011/08/17

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All these rapid changes in the wireles, mobile world, seem to suggest a new paradigm emerging.  Which leads some to wonder about Kodak, George Eastman’s beloved photographic cash cow.
“The intellectual property hustle used to be so simple: purer, even. Patent holders extracted licensing fees, lump-sum settlements or cross-licensing agreements from nonholders, who paid up to avoid messy lawsuits or injunctions. It was a drag for almost everyone involved, but the stakes were comparatively small. Now, multibillion-dollar portfolio sales have put blood in the water, attracting an entirely different kind of shark.

We’ve already seen this play out once with Motorola. It’s easy to forget now that just a few weeks before Google stepped in to buy the company, investor Carl Icahn publicly and privately urged Motorola to sell off its patents, either for cash or by (again) splitting up the company. . . . Now we have the formula. It’s playing out with RIM, which is getting pressure to sell, license or spin off itspatent portfolio. Never mind that RIM’s intellectual property, or IP, might not actually be as intrinsically valuable as Nortel’s, Novell’s or Motorola’s. . . .

Right now, it looks like a seller’s market. Because nobody seems to be kicking the tires to see exactly what they’re buying, the conventional wisdom is to sell. Like Motorola a few weeks ago, RIM is in a tough spot, so this pressure is hard to resist. If RIM were to publicly announce that it wasn’t for sale, its already-weakened stock, temporarily buoyant from acquisition rumors, would fall to the ground.

It’s even harder for Kodak, which really does have a substantial patent portfolio and is in an even weaker market position. On Wednesday, Bloomberg ran an analyst-driven story titled “Kodak Worth Five Times More in Breakup With $3 Billion Patents“: . . . A company that’s lost billions of dollars over the decade, sporting a market cap of less than $700 million, begins to look like a much better buy if you think it’s sitting on $3 billion in assets. It looks even better if you think it might win a billion-dollar infringement suit against Apple and RIM, which has been dragging out in the International Trade Commission for years but may finally be decided soon.



and if yr interested, why not check out what’s doing at the George Eastman House – International Museum of Photography!

You [Copy]right [Up] My Life (in Perpetuity) 2011/08/16

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[Disclaimer: I should probably hold off on posting this until I speak with my good friend IP Lawyer Larry, but it’s just too delicious to wait to hear back, so here goes. ]  There was a fascinating article in yesterday’s NYTimes about “a little-noted provision in United States copyright law” which raises a whole host of new questions related to copyright law, its purpose, function, and future.   “When copyright law was revised in the mid-1970s, musicians, like creators of other works of art, were granted “termination rights,” which allow them to regain control of their work after 35 years, so long as they apply at least two years in advance. Recordings from 1978 are the first to fall under the purview of the law, but in a matter of months, hits from 1979, like “The Long Run” by the Eagles and “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer, will be in the same situation — and then, as the calendar advances, every other master recording once it reaches the 35-year mark.   The provision also permits songwriters to reclaim ownership of qualifying songs. Bob Dylan has already filed to regain some of his compositions, as have other rock, pop and country performers like Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Waits and Charlie Daniels, according to records on file at the United States Copyright Office. ”

From an archivist’s perspective, I think this gets to the idea of the poor & inadequate description of songs as “sound recordings.”  In 1999 and 2000, singer/songwriters Don Henley and Sheryl Crow “convinced Congress to undo language classifying sound recordings as “works for hire,” which had just been inserted stealthily into another, unrelated bill” because, as Henley points out in a recent interview, ““Work for hire” was never intended to apply to sound recordings. That came about because of movies and books. Sound recordings somehow got added to the list, then taken off again.”

Meanwhile, the ostriches with their heads in the sand at the RIAA (and at the labels) are beginning to fight back: ““We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings,” said Steven Marks, general counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America, a lobbying group in Washington that represents the interests of record labels. As the record companies see it, the master recordings belong to them in perpetuity, rather than to the artists who wrote and recorded the songs, because, the labels argue, the records are “works for hire,” compilations created not by independent performers but by musicians who are, in essence, their employees,” and some even claim it “would create chaos “because rights for most recordings would be divided among various band members, producers and others who contributed to the recording, and it might require years of litigation to sort out who has what rights.””

So what’s the answer?  According to Henley, “One option is to go in the studio and re-record the songs and make new masters. If you completely re-record the songs, my understanding is that the label doesn’t own those masters any more, you do, that they don’t have anything to say about it if you record songs again from the ground up and everything is new. ”  Well, if that’s the case, then U.S. copyright law for sound recordings is setting itself up to do the exact opposite of  “protecting the rights of copy”, by encouraging artists to re-do and replace the original with a revision.

Meanwhile, another part of this fascinating story, in my opinion, relates to what exactly is copyrighted anyway?  The song?  The lyrics? The sound?  My gut suggests it would be the “music”, so that songwriters (e.g. Paul McCartney or Paul Simon, etc.) would own the rights to their poetry, and then could collect and release the words in a different medium (print). . . . But I could be wrong, and I will have to ask my lawyer friend Larry for his opinion.  the rights of corporations.

The other fascinating part of the story is the whether or not corporations can copyright works of art (or works of hire)?  I remember back in the 1980s a few stories about Heavy Metal suicides including this one about Ozzy Osbourne and this one about Judas Priest fans, and it makes me wonder, if corporations own those rights, then why were musicians (for hire) dragged into court while the corporate labels were excluded?

Here’s a chart of some of the popular recordings that are at risk of termination.  You’d think that with cash-cow names like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, The Eagles, etc. there would be lots of interest in this story.  Well, we’ll see what happens in a couple years.  Read a bit more o the history of other derivative art works on questioncopyright.org [especially in the comments section].  And to bring it full circle, here’s a part of Frank Zappa’s 1985 testimony against the PMRC,

“Ladies, please be advised: The $8.98 purchase price does not entitle you to a kiss on the foot from the composer or performer in exchange for a spin on the family Victrola. Taken as a whole, the complete list of PMRC demands reads like an instruction manual for some sinister kind of “toilet training program” to house-break all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few. Ladies, how dare you? The ladies’ shame must be shared by the bosses at the major labels who, through the RIAA, chose to bargain away the rights of composers, performers, and retailers in order to pass H.R. 2911, The Blank Tape Tax: A private tax levied by an industry on consumers for the benefit of a select group within that industry. “

Bruce Sterling: Dead Media Beat Digital Preservation When Data Disappears 2011/08/13

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Archives, Digital Preservation, Electronic Records.
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Bruce Sterling wrote this brief piece on digital decay in response to the NYTimes article “When Data Disappears” which mentioned him:
“People who think these knowledge institutions are stable need to go talk to the New Media scene in Holland. A paper book will persist alone in a dark dry closet, but you just can’t do this constant digital migration and curation without a constant budget; it’s like computing when they’ve cut your electricity. And they will cut your budget AND your electricity, because who the heck needs some dumb stack of old floppies? We’ve got emergencies, you know.

*As Stewart Brand wisely surmised many years ago,
 “The system doesn’t really work, it can’t be fixed, no one understands it,no one is in charge of it, it can’t be lived without, and it gets worse every year.”