Center for Information Strategy and Policy
Science Applications International Corporation
The late twentieth century saw the beginning of the age of digital information in corporate archives, the creative arts, financial markets, medical information, and scholarship, among other venues. How the United States chooses to preserve and manage its digital information affects core issues in key industries-from medical textbook publishing to entertainment and to future scholarship in science, technology, and the arts and humanities. It profoundly affects how the future will come to know our present and is, therefore, integral to the nation’s identity, now and to come. In this terrain, the Library of Congress (LC) has chosen to open its investigations with a series of probes into six principal areas in which the LC faces collection-management issues: large Web sites, electronic books, electronic journals, digitally recorded sound, digital film, and digital television. This chapter summarizes what a series of interviews and papers, conducted and written during the late summer and early fall 2001, revealed about a complex and shifting landscape.
Formal 30-minute interviews and shorter conversations and e-mail exchanges were conducted with individuals who represent a range of interests and organizations across publishing, film, entertainment, news, electronic books, computer science, libraries, corporate research, nonprofit organizations, professional and trade associations, and academe. Their names and primary affiliations are listed on page 9. (Note that corporate representatives frequently sit on the boards of nonprofit and cultural organizations, and many communities therefore inform their perspectives.) Most people talked about several concerns and formats; thus, we have abandoned any efforts to characterize responses exclusively by format (e.g., e-books or e-journals, Web sites, digital film, digital TV, digitally recorded sound), profession, or organization.
Information gained from the interviews was complemented by six “environmental scans” that were intended to provide baseline information for concerned groups outside the library, preservation, and archival communities. Their intent was to define the basic issues while illuminating the concerns brought by the library, preservation, and archival communities.
Not surprisingly, there is a range of opinion and emphasis placed on different issues across communities. In the following pages, we summarize some of the key findings.
“Born Digital” Versus Digitized
The scope of the effort was defined to encompass material that is “born digital,” that is, objects that have been created in digital form rather than converted from analog to digital. This distinction, however, was not consistently useful to interviewees or to the writers. Historic film or news footage may be embedded in a newly created digital educational project. Re-release of entertainment products partly or wholly in digital form, either as new editions of older works or as reused elements in an otherwise-new work, further blurs the distinction. The production process itself is not hermetically sealed analog or digital. “Materials collected or generated for a television show,” wrote the team from the WGBH Educational Foundation, “may consist of a great threaded mesh of digital and analog components, so tightly bound together that, at any point in their life cycle, one may serve as surrogate for another.” A similar case can be made for radio broadcasts, and many persons in the recording industry agree that preservation of a digitally recorded sound product should include its packaging-the notes, artwork, and photograph of the artist, for example. Even on the Web, many sites offer digitized versions of print works; for this reason, archiving the Web itself can be seen as encompassing both born-digital and digitized materials. One publishing executive argued that “digital” should be thought of as a medium in which content was both created and made accessible to the public. However, another publisher cautioned that the distinction between “digitized” and “born digital” is very important because it relates to the concept of completeness, and that accompanying that concept are notions of “copies,” “versions,” and other ideas critical to managing works and their associated rights.
The notion of scope arose at many levels, from the definition of the object to the extent of the effort. Several people inside and outside the library community urged planners to consider the scope of the effort carefully, including such factors as what was selected for the collection (even if it were a single collection), its longevity (10, 100, or 1,000 years), and its purpose (preservation, limited access, or public access). From a practical point of view, given the sizes of the resources, selection seems particularly important in film, television, and the Web. The Web is complicated by the fact that only part of it is publicly accessible and by unresolved issues over rights. It is not clear, for example, that a Web site may be “harvested” for purposes of preservation without the knowledge and permission of the various rights holders. (In the case of an interactive Web site, the range of potential rights holders extends well beyond those involved in its creation.)
Several people in both the technical and the arts communities urged attention to “ephemera” as well as to “published” works (the definition of “publication” is being contested). Others believed the effort would do well to focus on published materials subject to copyright and to which the LC has a clear mandate. A number of respondents in film, television, and sound noted that again, the distinction between publication and ephemera is blurred. For example, a historic radio broadcast that is captured by the listener may contain aural information that reflects its relatively poor reception at the time; retaining that quality goes to the traditional mandate of preserving the experience, which might not be reflected in the script or in a studio recording. Similarly, only a very small percentage of the material shot is actually used in the commercial release of a film, yet digital video disc (DVD) releases have provided new life for outtakes and other associated production materials. The relative utility of material changes over the cultural life of a film or a performance; the first public release does not necessarily capture all of its aesthetic or future scholarly value. There is a substantial economic incentive, since enhancing a DVD release is one strategy for combating piracy.
The notion of scope also surfaced at the level of the artifact or item. Discussions of Web sites, e-books, e-journals, and digital television make clear the difficulty of drawing boundaries among these items. Within the Web itself are emerging distinctions between the “surface” Web and the “deep” Web. E-books and e-journals download content from the Web to their respective formats and include hyperlinks to the Web for ancillary augmentation. The advent of interactive television also invites new forms of multimedia that combine resources built for the Web with those created for broadcasting in digital form. Moreover, an item that appears seamless to the user is frequently a composite document. Formats as well understood as electronic scholarly journals are built as multimedia objects in which the constituent elements may include text, images, animation, or advertisements, each of which may be encoded in a different format. Finally, several people from the arts communities emphasized the importance of collecting the version of the object that the creator (e.g., the director of a film) considered final in the format that he or she considered final.
There are complexities to notions of “authorship”; many of these are not new to digital but are magnified by the circumstances under which digital products may be distributed and used. These complexities are related to the complicated intellectual property considerations that surround digital information. Even in a format as carefully studied as is that of electronic scholarly journals, creation and deposit can involve numerous stakeholders, and the number of interested parties multiplies in sound, television, and film, in which individuals and entities have traditionally had rights in the processes of creation and distribution. Frank Romano points out that the e-books world is witnessing changes in traditional roles and functions; for example, writers can self-publish and thus become distributors, while software companies can behave like publishers. Similar shifts and realignments can be seen in some metadata discussions, where, as Peter Lyman notes, both computer scientists and librarians are putting forth different yet overlapping views of how the systems might work.
Technical Issues Associated with Long-term Storage
Early in the interview process, one of the technical experts cautioned planners not to “underestimate” the importance of and differences among formats. There was, nonetheless, a consensus around the basic issues, if not necessarily around solutions. The issues, which include technical obsolescence and standards, metadata, information security, and the overall architecture of the system, are by no means discrete. For example, standards affect creation as well as preservation. As one scholar of film and new media pointed out, the evolution of his organization’s Web site represented a patchwork of changing and evolving standards. Several writers pointed out that the issue is not only making sure that bits survive but also ensuring the preservation of a technical environment that will permit future retrieval of the information, the work as envisioned by the author or creator, and the experience of the user.
The longevity of the storage medium was a consistent concern, as was signal degradation and software obsolescence. One technical expert urged that degradation be compared with the process by which a photograph ages. The image fades; the medium on which the image is printed also disintegrates. There are methods for error detection; however, at some point, there is concern that the integrity of the digital object is compromised.
One solution is migration from one medium to another. However, there are discussions over whether to use sampling/compression strategies (particularly if the object is made available in, for example, Joint Photographic Experts Group [JPEG] or Motion Picture Experts Group [MPEG] format), the extent to which migrating the information introduces errors if the data are resampled, and the implications of migrating formats for version control and integrity. When a digital work is migrated (e.g., from MPEGn to MPEGn+1), perhaps in very short order given the rapid development of the technology, what is the original work? In the case of recorded sound, for example, would improvements to fidelity resulting from more sophisticated software technology compromise the integrity of the original, since it is no longer truly the artist’s treatment of a work and misrepresents the recording technology of the time?
At least one technical expert did not consider this to be a serious problem but did acknowledge that the rules for the successive formats must be retained. On the other hand, the team from the WGBH Educational Foundation noted that while standard archival practices call for refreshing the data through migration and emulation, these strategies might be inadequate for “handling the intricacies, interdependencies, and sheer volume of television content.” For film and television, this has resulted in attention to selection and collection policies inside traditional libraries as well as other organizations and has highlighted the importance of metadata as a management tool.
Playback-usually associated with the equipment or software that enables users to re-create the performance of a film, for example-was seen to be a particular problem for e-books as well as for digitally recorded sound and film. For example, certain early tapes are no longer accessible because the equipment to read them no longer exists or is hard to find. Playback affects any effort to enable future users to re-create the work (however defined) as it was originally experienced. Issues associated with playback can be expanded to operating systems, browsers, and so on. Solutions vary from emulation to maintaining collections of relevant hardware and software so that an archive or archiving system of digital content can imply preservation of certain kinds of equipment as well. Particularly for e-books, where so much of the design is predicated on screen size, re-creating the experience for future users implies access to the device that was intended to display the content.
Standards and Technical Obsolescence
The rapid obsolescence of some formats, as well as the plethora of standards, was widely considered to be a barrier both to creation and to preservation. Those who had opinions on open versus proprietary standards favored the former because they were believed to facilitate management of the archive and its content. This applies to a broad range of issues, from operating systems to markup language, compression, and fonts.
Before September 11, 2001, few people consulted had strong opinions on information security, but those who did thought that it was important as a guarantor of trust. One technical expert did not see the information security needs of an archive as being different from its general needs, or that, for example, the mission of the archive added a layer of concern. Another technical expert cautioned that “security” means a number of things in this context, including robustness and safety of the storage, privacy, and copyright control. The interviewees recommended that discussions of security be kept “simple and clear” to reduce ambiguity, unnecessary conflict and, perhaps, undue emphasis at this point.
With respect to confidentiality and privacy, several people noted different dimensions and concerns that arise when the procedures associated with managing the archive go digital. One example that was offered was the information typically provided on copyright registration concerning the authors, who might use a pseudonym or who might wish to keep their own addresses, or the addresses of their agents, from general use (Salman Rushdie was the example offered). There are overlaps between this kind of information and the information included in metadata. At least one person cautioned against excessive restriction, arguing that too many restrictions inhibit accountability.
Proposals for Storage Architecture
Those who addressed technical issues tended to favor distributed rather than centralized systems, because the former would accommodate a high degree of “local” variation within shared protocols. There were also calls for interoperability, which would make it possible for information to be shared across platforms and among vendors. One publisher thought it was important that the LC do the development in-house, avoid proprietary software, and use commercially available tools because this approach would facilitate future upgrades to the system. Two architectural approaches were set forth: one for e-journals (see chapter by Dale Flecker), which has been fleshed out in some detail, and a more rudimentary approach that looks at the problem of preservation from a broad perspective in which the LC is one of many entities that might be involved. Discussions are ongoing about the extent to which content may be partitioned as a layer that is separate from formats, metadata, applications, and access policies, mechanisms, and controls. But, as one technical expert noted, the technology is likely to be developed outside of the traditional library community by other interests. The LC has an important role as “stimulator of initiatives and a consumer of successful technologies,” but it does not have the money or expertise to dictate an outcome. Nearly all of the people interviewed, whether or not they commented on technical issues, agreed with this comment insofar as it acknowledges the importance of the LC’s imprimatur.
Metadata, or “data about data,” are simultaneously a standard, a management and access tool, and a feature of the system architecture. For example, whether the metadata are bundled into the content or are maintained separately is a question that is being discussed with respect to several formats. This is a matter that affects approaches to interoperability as well as system design. The team from Carnegie Mellon University argued persuasively for the importance of metadata to the management of the archive as well as for providing appropriate access. The chapter by Wactlar and Christel delineates in some detail the several approaches to metadata, illustrating the range of academic and commercial interests that have become involved in defining metadata. Moreover, as pointed out by Lyman in his study of archiving the Web, the metadata discussions reveal the different visions of archiving as embodied by the library and computer science communities. He writes, “The librarian tends to look at the content of the Web page as the object to be described and preserved. The computer scientist tends to look at the Web as a technology for linking information, thus looks at the Web as a system of relationships (hence the name “Web”).”
One of the functions of metadata, as the various schemes have evolved since 1995, is outlining the terms and conditions of use-that is, access. This thorny issue is discussed in the next section.
Access and Rights Management
Few failed to identify intellectual property rights (IPR) management and fair use as key issues. Each of the chapters addresses IPR at some level, with perhaps the most general discussion offered in Peter Lyman’s chapter on archiving the Web. The complexity of this set of issues varies across media. Thus, questions of international law hang heavily over the Web and any products that are distributed through the Web, while changing perceptions of who is or is not a public figure and the layered rights associated with recorded sound, film, and television figure prominently in discussions of those formats.
The interviews showed confusion over whether archiving for purposes of preservation could be decoupled from use. Some of this ambiguity arose from an appreciation of the mission of the LC as a repository that supports scholarship and is in some way “the nation’s library.” Some arose from unfamiliarity with the distinction that is common among traditional preservation circles in which use of rare objects, for example, can be calibrated and surrogates used in their stead. (This is one of the rationales both for bibliographic records and for metadata, which enable scholars to learn about an object without accessing the object itself.) Finally, there is an inherent tension in the entertainment and publishing industries: the value of a digital asset lies in providing access to it, but unauthorized access and duplication can reduce its value.
While there was near unanimity on the importance of managing intellectual property responsibly, no voices called for some version of complete lockout. Indeed, one representative from a major company with interests in several areas thought that the most important issues were both protection of intellectual property rights and ease of use (with appropriate accommodation for potential users with special needs). There was widespread acknowledgment of the need to find a balance between the economic needs of the creators and distributors and the legitimate uses of the works, but there was a range of opinion as to what that meant. Some suggested ways to handle management of intellectual property “behind the scenes” through technological means, which could be coupled with pricing that discouraged inappropriate use. Other proposals revolved around ways to use time, such as restricting access on the basis of estimates of time during which the owner expected to extract the economic value. However, product cycles of reuse would complicate that approach.
Several people felt that existing laws were sufficient: what is required, they maintained, is appropriate enforcement. Others believed that there was a need to clarify the law. Given that the Web is an international phenomenon, attention to international law is particularly important. As of this writing, terms such as “copy,” “publication,” “performance,” and “public figure,” whose definitions were once widely agreed on, had become subject to discussion. Still others pointed to misperceptions that were clouding the discussion in several contradictory ways: people think that information in digital form has both more value (those who tended to inflate the costs for permissions) and far less value (those who thought information should be free) than does information in analog form. Finally, a number of people, particularly in the film and entertainment industries, noted that the inflamed environment in which the discussions are taking place makes reasonable attempts at compromise very difficult.
Several people pointed out that copyright as a mechanism, which had arisen in the context of print, had already begun to fray under the stress of its application to media other than text, and that it was becoming increasingly unwieldy. For example, in film, the multiplicity of rights and permissions that affect distribution and reuse of material had derailed educational projects because it was simply impossible to unravel the layers. Recorded sound has similar layers of rights (see chapter by Peter Lyman). Finally, ambiguity over the law is itself becoming a barrier. Faculty members are wary of developing new course work for online learning in an environment in which there is no consensus about appropriate conduct and the legal ramifications of their decisions are unknown.
John Seely Brown
University of Southern California
American Film Institute
Pennsylvania State University
The Recording Industry Association of America
Microsoft Bay Area Research Center
American Film Institute
University of Southern California
The Walt Disney Company
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Adam Clayton Powell, III
The Freedom Forum
Printing Industries of America
Penguin Putnam, Inc.