The Roadmap to Saving the Sounds of America, Though the Road is Bumpy
February 15, 2013 7:49 AM   Subscribe

The National Recording Preservation Board was mandated by the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, but it didn't have a preservation plan in place to address saving everything from the oldest tin foil recordings (prev) to recent "born digital" creations. That changed with the National Recording Preservation Plan (full 89 page PDF). Except, "the recording preservation provisions under current law are so restrictive you literally can't make — legally — a digital copy of an older analog recording without permissions which are very hard to get" (NPR).

In 2011, Sony Music Entertainment teamed up with the Library of Congress to get over 10,000 rare historic sound recordings streaming online (National Jukebox, previously), so there is some hope for old audio to get heard by a wider audience than archival librarians and researchers.

The Library of Congress archival efforts take place in the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation, in Culpeper, VA (Google maps). If you're in that area, there are periodic screenings. If you'd like to know more, here's a 6:38 long audio-only piece on the Packard Campus, or a 13:51 long audio-visual look at the campus (YT).
posted by filthy light thief (8 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
...the recording preservation provisions under current law are so restrictive you literally can't make — legally — a digital copy of an older analog recording without permissions which are very hard to get...

But on the upside, think of how extremely incentivized those long-dead artists are when we keep extending copyright!
posted by DU at 8:11 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


> The problem with audio is that recorded sound doesn't have a standardized format.

I once had a job in the radio archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I was part of an ongoing project wherein old programs on reel-to-reel tape were being digitized, in part to save on storage costs and in part because many of the tapes were starting to deteriorate. Behind the office I worked in there was a huge storage area where thousands of tapes were kept in a climate-controlled environment, along with material on every other storage format the CBC had experimented with; DAT, CDs, cassettes and, if you went back far enough, vinyl...all of it doomed to degrade and/or become technologically unretrievable some day. The digital files I created seven years ago will have to be upgraded at some point, probably in the not-too-distant future, if they haven't already disappeared into the ether by then.

Being an archivist of this sort is like waging a constant losing battle against the second law of thermodynamics.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:27 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cylinder piracy is killing the industry!

But on a serious note, the LOC press release on the Preservation Plan includes the comment that:
A gospel-music historian estimated that only a few of the thousands of gospel recordings that have been produced are now available commercially.
While the copyright issues are terribly restrictive, agreements like Sony's might see increased distribution for old recordings. By having old recordings digitized and available to stream online, license holders can see what is being heard, and might even make those recordings commercially available again, which might in turn give them an incentive to digitize more old recordings.

It would be great if copyrights died after a reasonable lifespan, but digitizing and hosting old recordings costs money. UCSB has an adopt-a-cylinder program, as it costs them $60 per cylinder to rehouse catalog, and digitize it for public access, but so far that has gotten 58 out of over a thousand cylinders digitized and archived.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:36 AM on February 15, 2013


Library and Archives Canada - The Virtual Gramophone
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:39 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The digital files I created seven years ago will have to be upgraded at some point, probably in the not-too-distant future, if they haven't already disappeared into the ether by then.

The NPR article notes that the National Recording Preservation Plan proposes that anyone making a "born digital" recording needs to encode the audio with metadata — information embedded in the file — that spell out exactly how the audio was recorded. And in terms of longevity, open source formats like FLAC have been around over a decade, and even if they get superseded, having the source code alongside the audio should slow the process of obsolescence (though with digital media, there's also the physical storage aspect, which is another mess for archivists).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:40 AM on February 15, 2013


This is especially problematic for preservation of orphan works where the copyright holder cannot be located.
posted by jonp72 at 11:01 AM on February 15, 2013


So much of this could be solved by the imposition of a modest fee -- say, one dollar per work -- that would be imposed a few decades after a work is created/published. Paying the fee extends the copyright by several decades more.

If several extra decades of copyright protection for a given work isn't worth one dollar to the rights holder, the work ought to be in the public domain where it can be legally remixed, republished, and reproduced by everyone, including archivists.
posted by compartment at 3:42 PM on February 15, 2013


"the recording preservation provisions under current law are so restrictive...

No law requires publishers/authors to obey copyright laws (apart from artist contracts). They (jointly) could release phonorecords into PD any time they want (if they're still alive). If they really want to be forgotten, fuckem.

As for orphan works, there needs to be a law (salvage?). From MMYY you have x years to speak up, then your stuff is PD. Ignorance of the law/failure to read the paper is no excuse.
posted by Twang at 6:07 PM on February 15, 2013


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