Library of Congress Announces National Recording Preservation Plan
Feb 21st, 2013 by Isaiah Beard

Peirce 55-B dictation wire recorder from 1945. Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries.  Source: Wikipedia.

A Peirce 55-B dictation wire recorder from 1945. Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries. Source: Wikipedia.


A good portion of our nation’s heritage has been immortalized in sound recordings.  From the late 19th century to the present, sound recordings have been used to capture music, speeches and historic events, the oral histories of people who have lived through important events in our nation’s history.

As with many electronic and mechanical recordings, however, this vast heritage is in danger.  In an effort to save what we can of these timeless recordings, the Library of Congress has put together a blueprint in the form of a National Preservation Plan.  This plan is the result of nearly a decade of work that was mandated by Congress as part of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000.

As the Library of Congress puts in in their press release:

Experts estimate that more than half of the titles recorded on cylinder records—the dominant format used by the U.S. recording industry during its first 23 years—have not survived. The archive of one of radio’s leading networks is lost. A fire at the storage facility of a principal record company ruined an unknown number of master recordings of both owned and leased materials. The whereabouts of a wire recording made by the crew members of the Enola Gay from inside the plane as the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima are unknown. Many key recordings made by George Gershwin no longer survive. Recordings by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and other top recording artists have been lost. Personal collections belonging to recording artists were destroyed in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

The National Preservation Plan for sound recordings is available as a PDF file. In it, multiple recommendations are made, including:

  • Create a publicly accessible national directory of institutional, corporate and private recorded-sound collections and an authoritative national discography that details the production of recordings and the location of preservation copies in public institutions;
  • Develop a coordinated national collections policy for sound recordings, including a strategy to collect, catalog and preserve locally produced recordings, radio broadcast content and neglected and emerging audio formats and genres;
  • Establish university-based degree programs in audio archiving and preservation and continuing education programs for practicing audio engineers, archivists, curators and librarians;
  • Construct environmentally controlled storage facilities to provide optimal conditions for long-term preservation;
  • Establish an Audio-Preservation Resource Directory website to house a basic audio-preservation handbook, collections appraisal guidelines, metadata standards and other resources and best practices;
  • Establish best practices for creating and preserving born-digital audio files;
  • Apply federal copyright law to sound recordings created before February 15, 1972;
  • Develop a basic licensing agreement to enable on-demand secure streaming by libraries and archives of out-of-print recordings;
  • Organize an advisory committee of industry executives and heads of archives to address recorded sound preservation and access issues that require public-private cooperation for resolution.


New Anticircumvention Rulemaking: Major Shifts in the DMCA thanks to Library of Congress
Jul 26th, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

Some major policy shifts came out of the Library of Congress today that fundamentally changes how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is applied and enforced.  This decision making is part of a three-year cycle in which the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights hear from the public and review policies regarding enforcement of the DMCA.  According to the Librarian of Congress’ statement:

Section 1201(a)(1) of the copyright law requires that every three years I am to determine whether there are any classes of works that will be subject to exemptions from the statute’s prohibition against circumvention of technology that effectively controls access to a copyrighted work.  I make that determination at the conclusion of a rulemaking proceeding conducted by the Register of Copyrights, who makes a recommendation to me.  Based on that proceeding and the Register’s recommendation, I am to determine whether the prohibition on circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works is causing or is likely to cause adverse effects on the ability of users of any particular classes of copyrighted works to make noninfringing uses of those works.

For this cycle, some rather significant rulings were made that are decidedly consumer-friendly and archivist-friendly.  In particular, the Register touched on:

  • Decryption of DVDs for fair use. Commercial and other video DVDs that are protected by the Content Scramble System (CSS) may now be lawfully decrypted, and the copy protection circumvented, for Fair Use purposes.  This includes extraction of short pieces for comment or criticism, educational uses in college and university settings, documentary filmmaking, and noncommercial videos.
  • Video games and computer programs. Recognizing that preservation of old, obsolete software packages like applications and video games can require some circumvention of anti-pirating schemes, it now appears that the LoC is giving some leeway here.  It is now legal to crack DRM on legally-obtained  games and software “when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing for, investigating, or correcting security flaws or vulnerabilities.”  It is also legal now to bypass protection measures where security dongles are required if the security measures “prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete.”
  • eBooks. With some formats heavily protected by DRM measures, potential eBook buyers are often frustrated by an inability to transfer their legally-purchased content across platforms, and the blind are often thwarted in their attempts to use software that will allow this content to be read to them.  Today’s decision partially relieves this angst.  In cases where no other alternative exists, the LoC has deemed it legal to bypass Digital Rights management for eBooks for the purpose of enabling text-to-speech.
  • Mobile Devices and Wireless Phones. This part of today’s decision deals specifically with a smartphone user’s right to load “unauthorized” or modified operating systems on their mobile devices, in particular, the practice of jailbreaking on Apple iPhones.  The LoC has ruled that this activity does fall under Fair Use.

This decision has been over a year in the making, and the next review cycle is less than two years away, at which point these decision may be revisited, or possibly even more DMCA exemptions will be laid out.

The official announcement and accompanying documentation can be found on the US Copyright Office Website here.

Your tweets, saved for eternity
Apr 14th, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

With over 12 billion 140-character messages and growing, Twitter has exploded onto the social networking scene since the first Tweet ever posted roughly fours ago.  Those tiny text-based messages add up: That’s an estimated 1.5 terabaytes of data, and growing!

It looks like the Library of Congress sees the social impact and significance of the medium, and even believes there is a potential academic treasure trove waiting to be unearthed within this mass of single-sentence missives.  And so, the LoC has announced – via Twitter, of course – that it has acquired the entire Twitter archive.

That’s right. Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress.

So if you think the Library of Congress is “just books,” think of this: The Library has been collecting materials from the web since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000. Today we hold more than 167 terabytes of web-based information, including legal blogs, websites of candidates for national office, and websites of Members of Congress.

Twitter also made its own announcement via its blog:

It is our pleasure to donate access to the entire archive of public Tweets to the Library of Congress for preservation and research. It’s very exciting that tweets are becoming part of history. It should be noted that there are some specifics regarding this arrangement. Only after a six-month delay can the Tweets will be used for internal library use, for non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.

The specific details of the arrangement are still a bit sketchy, and I do have some questions about how this will play out.  For instance, there’s not much direct mention of whether this archive will include the numerous photos and videos that are frequently linked to users’ tweets, but are often hosted via third party add-on sites such as TwitPic and Posterous.  A lot of Twitter users tend to use the platform as a springboard towards linking to websites and other external content, the permancnce of which can be pretty dubious.

This is still a very promising start though, and hopefully the archived twittersphere will in fact prove useful to researchers in the future.

Some may question the importance or singificane of this decision.  But Twitter isn’t just mindless banter. The LoC lists a few socially significant tweets in the archive.  Among them, the first “Victory tweet” by a president-elect.  There’s also quite a bit of historical influence that was set in motion by Twitter: political prisoners in the Middle East have used it to get their message across to followers; sometimes it was the very medium that got them into trouble, and other times it spread the word that helped set them free. Politicians in the West from all ends of the political spectrum have and continue to use Twitter to marshall their troops, as it were.  And the media have documented cases where Twitter became the source of social change in countries ruled with an iron hand, so much so that the potential outage of the service due to maintenance was once considered a serious threat to activism.  There’s PLENTY of social significance there.

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