Thursday, February 15, 2007

Internet Questions

Are Blogger blogs stored in one location? If that room burned to the ground, would this blog disappear?

100 years from now, after most of us are gone, barring life extension, will blogs exist in archives? Will historians be able to go back and check, say, how all the Objectivist bloggers reacted to event x?

Imagine two writers. One publishes his short stories with a small publisher and gets paid very little because short stories do not sell much. Another puts his short stories on his blog for free. 300 years from now, might it happen that the author who printed his stories is forgotten because his neglected books have turned to dust, whereas the author whose stories are on the internet has become popular because his work is easily accessible?

Might it not happen that someday an author’s heirs who keep his books off the internet so they can continue to sell them are doing his legacy a disservice in the long run for short-term profit?

5 comments:

EdMcGon said...

Intriguing questions. It will all depend on how our descendents handle the information contained on the Internet.

Dismuke said...

My guess is that an organization such as Google which owns Blogger would have off-site backups. It would be very irresponsible and unprofessional if they did not.

As for how long blog postings will survive - that's an interesting question. Myrhaf - do you keep a back-up copy of your postings somewhere? What if Blogger becomes pissed off at something you say and deletes your account? Bye-bye postings, most likely.

On the other hand, if you decided to simply pay for your own web space and use one of the many php and/or sql based blogging software packages that are out there, you could easily make back-up copies. But if something were to happen to you and the web hosting bills stopped being paid and your survivors had no idea and little interest in what is on your hard drive and various backup discs - well, then it, too, will be lost. With Blogger, there is a possibility they will keep it up or archived long after all of us are gone.

As for neglected works - well, unfortunately, in lobbiests' rush in recent decades to change the copyright laws to protect Disney from Mickey Mouse from falling into the public domain, a great many issues regarding the public domain have been overlooked and will create some very serious issues in the future unless changes are made.

In the old days, copyrights in this country had to be renewed after 28 years. Those which were not renewed fell into the public domain. The VAST majority of copyrights were NOT thusly renewed. They were, essentially, ABANDONED. This happened for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the owners felt the works no longer had commercial viability and simply did not care. In other cases, the owners and/or the owner's heirs simply forgot that the works even existed.

Today, it is not even necessary to register a work in order to enjoy certain significant protections by our copyright laws. And those protections last for the duration of an authors life plus 70 years beyond his death.

The problem with this is: what happens if one wishes to republish a work and one is unable to locate either the author or any heirs? Of course, that is always going to be a problem. But it is a problem that becomes a bigger issue with the passage of time.

Let's say that you write a short story and you publish it either online or somewhere else. Let's say it was not a commercial success and went unnoticed. But it is a great story - and let's say 55 years from now I want to turn it into a movie. I would be more than happy to pay for it and make you or or your heirs rich. But I have no way of knowing that you passed away 5 years earlier and your heirs do not even remember that you ever wrote the work. Chances are pretty good that the movie will NOT be made because of the risk involved. Why spend lots of money on a production when, at any moment, some heir can suddenly come out of nowhere and sue?

Requiring copyright owners to renew their copyrights at certain intervals - perhaps every 30 or 40 years - will help solve a lot of problems. It will push the majority of works that nobody cares about anymore into the public domain. And it will reinforce claims and help provide contact information for interested parties on those works where the owners DO wish to continue to have legally protected ownership. In today's world, this registration process does not even have to be complicated - it could very easily be done electronically.

That is a major loophole in our copyright laws - and, in decades to come, many abandoned works will end up disappearing because of the risks involved in preserving them. And let's face it, in a great many instances, preservation largely depends on commercial viability. It is possible to have marginal commercial viability with a work that is clearly in the public domain or where one can strike up a realistic deal with the owner. It is not possible if one has to worry about the threat of a bottomless pit of legal fees and such.

As for books turning to dust - well, it is still an open question as to how long electronic media will survive. I subscribe to an email discussion group targeted towards sound archivists and this is a constant hot topic of debate for that group.

The lifespan of CDs, for example, has NOT at all lived up to what was initially promised. What is the actual lifespan of a hard drive? Nobody really knows. In the 1960s, some tried to "preserve" vintage recordings by transferring them to tape. Today, those tapes are turning into to vinegar. There are some who believe that the lifespan of the CD may end up being only be marginally longer in the grand scheme of things. Meanwhile, shellac recordings from 100 years ago that have been stored properly still play as good as when they were new. And, books from prior to the post-civil war advent of the cheap paper that is now turning to dust actually survive quite well - though, of course, there were not as many of them.

Besides the questionable survivability of modern digital media, there is also the issue of it becoming technologically out-of-date and difficult for people to access. An old book properly preserved will always be able to be read. But if someone gave you information on the old 5 inch floppy discs - well, would you be able to access that information without having to go out and buy some old second-hand hardware from an electronic junk shop? Of course, with the right drive hardware, that data should currently be readable by most computers. But what happens if technology evolves to the point that future computer systems will not be able to recognize the data languages we use today? There will, of course, exist a transition period and there will be programs which will convert that material. The question is: 100 years from now, if someone finds a box of floppy discs or CD-Rs or a circa 2007 hard drive and even if they have managed to survive in good condition, will anybody bother to go through the hassle of converting them to a modern format to see what is there? And, of the stuff that is there - well, the crow epistemology will still be an issue for people 100 years from now. Who is going to actually read it to see? The inexpensive price of hard drives and CD-Rs means that most are cluttered up with what will always be regarded as uninteresting junk. Go to any antique store and you will find dozens of once treasured family photographs from the past 120 years or so of people whose names and existence has long since been forgotten. You can pick such pictures up for a couple of dollars or so because they have novelty value and are sometimes interesting to look at. Are people 120 years from going to have a similar interest in the snapshots you have on your hard drive any more than a random stranger is likely going to be interested in seeing them today?

I visited the archives of a local historical society a while back and even this small institution had a mind boggling wealth of printed material, including long defunct newspapers and family diaries going back to the early 1800s that nobody has probably ever actually read since it was written. People are constantly making important new historical discoveries by simply mining archives such as that one. Imagine this magnified by thousands of times for the people of the future who will archive and seek to preserve the records from our age. They will have the ability to do key word searches which will help - but they will also have a lot more garbage information to sift through as well.

From what I have been reading, the growing consensus among archivists with regard to digital material seems to be that, until a sure-fire long term storage media can be discovered and verified, one needs to transfer it to new media every so many years. But, doing so, of course requires time and effort - which in the end, translates into money. Right now, many archives are already little more than glorified warehouses with only a small amount of their holdings being adequately cataloged or preserved for lack of funds.

It really is a potentially double edged sword. The ability to store lots of information in a very small amount of space makes it possible for our age to be the most documented, most photographed, most videotaped and most recorded age in history. And yet, since all of this is stored on media that is vulnerable to failure (ever lose a hard drive?) and rapid technological obsolescence, its survivability over the long term is rather fragile and, at this point, an open question.

Myrhaf said...

Myrhaf - do you keep a back-up copy of your postings somewhere?

No.

What if Blogger becomes pissed off at something you say and deletes your account? Bye-bye postings, most likely.

As far as I know, Blogger has not done this yet to any blog. If they decide to in the future because of pressure from the government -- probably in the form of "hate crime" legislation prohibiting politically incorrect speech -- I would hope they give the world ample warning before they start deleting blogs.

Blair said...

Myrhaf,

I'm not sure anyone who uses free blog software like Blogger, and others, even owns their words. My guess is that Google "owns" every word posted on any blogger account. I do not know. Perhaps a legal scholar or a lawyer can answer my question?

Dismuke said...

Blair -

I looked at the terms of service for Blogger. Blog owners do retain the copyright and Google does not claim one.

Some free online services claim a non-exclusive right of reproduction - usually for the specific purpose of advertising the sort of content that is available on the site. I am not aware of one, however, that claims full ownership of content that is posted to it.

Myrhaf -

Even if you trust the staff of Blogger to not arbitrarily delete your account, there are other risks to to at least be aware of. Software programs can become corrupted - and it is possible that your account could be deleted as a result of some sort of bug with their system. Not highly likely - but it is possible. Also, what if someone who takes exception to something you say somehow manages to hack their way through your login and password to deface or delete your site? Again, not highly likely - but stranger things have happened.

I did a quick google search on backing up Blogger blogs. There is a way you can do it through your account - but it looks awfully complex and bothersome. I did see mention of a program, however, that basically goes out on to the web and creates a mirror of your blog for you. I only did a quick check and did not explore how much the software costs, if anything or how to use it. But it might be something to look into. It would be a tragedy if all of the work you put into this blog suddenly went away one day.