From: Patent Tactics, George Brock-Nannestad
at least Karl Miller, Stephen Barr, Steven Smolian and Mike Richter have
written to this subject, which is fundamental to the way we should view our
"knowledge base society"
1) the rôle of libraries
I am saddened at the rate with which libraries (publicly accessible as well
as company) rid themselves of older books that are of immense interest and
importance. It is a demonstration of complete irresposibility on the side of
the libraries that they are not making the discarded material freely and
publicly available by other means in compensation. It is good for the
antiquarian book trade, because it does give some turnover, but except for
some books that are considered rarities because they are first editions
written by people who are presently considered famous, the prices are low.
The "gray" literature (reports published due to innumerable government
contracts) is virtually impossible to find. So my basement is a token of the
thought "grab it while you can, if it is of potential interest (to me, that
is)". I expect that there are others around who do the same.
2) the www
I am saddened by the theses and dissertations that contain massive references
to material to be found on the web, but who have nothing before that. I am
horrified that the academic standards in teaching institutions are so low
that the instructors do not uphold the need for a visit to a paper library.
For instance, there was one German (I forget which list I saw that on) who
built up suspense to the 125th anniversary of Edison's invention of the
phonograph and postulated a date for it, based entirely on material published
on the Edison Historic site webpage. He was totally oblivious to the research
(in the proper term of the word) performed by Raymond Wile in the 1970s on
precisely that, research that enabled Ray to publish well-argued accounts. So
not only do we get repetition of effort, but we get narrow, ill-researched
results that are apparently the only results available to the casual
searcher, which now includes college and university students.
The above situation is why I did not release the content of my presentation
in ARSC-SAM in Cleveland on Dayton C. Miller for distribution via the web,
only the abstract (and obviously the normal recordings that ARSC does). An
oral presentation has to cut corners, has no references, and so is only proof
that the presenter has done work in the area, has drawn conclusions, at a
specific time. The documentation will have to wait for a proper publication.
Mind you, there are fabulous (mostly accessible for free) web-journals
around, which fulfil all the criteria of peer reviewed academic publications
(old style). They only suffer from impermanence.
3) rights owners
When records were mechanical or tape, someone who took care could decide the
lifetime of the record. And fair use allowed you to make a copy or
compilation for remote listening, so you were assisted in your endeavours to
preserve what you had. Then someone came up with digital encoding, and the
rights holders were happy, now they could sell the same thing all over again -
and a lot of the repertoire was simply reissued. However, now the owner of
the record was no longer able to take responsibility for the lifetime of the
record, he became totally dependent on equipment manufacturers, because it
was much more likely that his records would become unplayable due to
equipment failure. There was also a standards war in both audio and video.
Simultanously the computer got a wide distribution, and people liked to
transmit files representing records. However, due to the limited bandwidth
and/or the limited storage capacity of private computers, only a mere shadow
of the recording is actually transmitted or stored, that which a standard ear
can perceive at any one instant - these are physiologically data-reduced
versions. It cannot be used for anything except to remind you of the full
version, yet innumerable users have taken to these formats. We could term
them depleted files.
The copying of records could for the first time be letter perfect - a digital
copy will give precisely the same sound as the original. As in the case of
vinyl and to a larger extent cassette tapes, a lot of bootlegs appeared.
These are perfect copies distributed by pirates - the correct term used for
this illegitimate commercial utilization of the copyrighted work. Sales of
the originals declined, mainly due to excessive profits causing prices many
times higher than the manufacturing costs as compared to the earlier formats,
and most certainly when we are discussing re-issues. The record companies
were greedy, and there was no future format in the horizon to move to. So
instead they decided that the transmission of the depleted files should
constitute infringement of the copyright, and that this should be termed
"piracy", although there is no commercial gain involved. By claiming the
rights to an inferior product and twisting our language the rights holders
try to get a stranglehold on public use of published material. I believe that
the inferiority of the depleted files has not been explored sufficiently in
relation to fair use.
Quality in preservation
Mike Richter said (and claims that it is a favorite hobby-horse of his): As a
general rule, it takes more than 90% of the effort to
squeeze the last 10% out of the recovery/restoration process. Given the
realities of budgets and the monotonically decreasing but still
overwhelming stock of source material of any class, is it really preferable
to save one unit of that material at 100% rather than ten at 90%?
While I fight for the possibility (and funding) obtain the 100% in individual
cases, I would definitely say "it is the broadness of the selection that is
important, quality less so". So the answer is obvious.
But it is not happily heard in archive circles. During the 1999 IASA
conference I stated that in my opinion even a depleted file is preferable to
no file. It means that it can only be perceived by an ear, very little in the
terms of signal analysis is meaningful, but it still has information value,
provided you know the code. And for this reason I whole-heartedly support the
view of Peter Copeland (in a mail on .BWF backward compatibility) that no
public archive should be tied to proprietary software. This is probably where
the concerted efforts of archives worldwide (and UNESCO!) should be
concentrated. It is even more important than cataloguing and meta-data. It is
allright to have to pay for equipment that will use these formats, but our
heritage should not be taken hostage by copyright.
As the libraries discard material because it takes up space, without ensuring
continued free access to the same material, while the rights holders take on
a hard approach to material (except sales catalogues), we quickly move
towards a situation where our knowledge is controlled entirely by copyrights.
But is this not the ideal situation for a government that wants to exert
control? The rights owners will have free access to monitoring internet
traffic to discover transmission of material that simulates sound, and they
can sell the surplus to governments. Or is it the other way around? Unholy
Kind regards, with pessimism