Emergency Digital Lending: The Internet Archive Accused of Copyright Violation During the Pandemic

The Internet Archive was founded in October, 1996 by computer scientist Brewster Kahle. His mission for the archive was ambitious to say the least: “to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge.” While the archive would eventually grow to include digitized copies of books, music, film, and so much more, the Internet Archive spent its first four years exclusively archiving the web. 

It wasn’t until 2005 that the Internet Archive began digitizing books in order to create an online library “which aims to produce the world’s greatest catalogue of all books.”  This would eventually be called the Open Library, an open-source online library which functions much like a physical library. Users must create a free account and “check out” the book they would like to read digitally, with the exception of books that were published before 1926 which are in the public domain. The library must maintain an even “owned-to-loaned” ratio. In other words, the number of people allowed to check out a book at one time must be equal to the number of physical copies owned by the Internet Archive. This system is called Controlled Digital Lending, or CDL.  

As you can see at the top of the screen, I was not able to check out Dune by Frank Herbert from the Open Library because it was currently checked out, however it is available to those with print disabilities. 

In March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Internet Archive announced the National Emergency Library. From March 24th to June 30th, the Internet Archive suspended waitlists for all books in the Open Library, essentially offering unlimited access to all titles. This was a clear violation of the owned-to-loaned rule, and naturally, controversy ensued.

Even though the Internet Archive has always removed any published works upon request of the author, four major publishers filed lawsuits against the archive for violating copyright law by overextending access to copyrighted material. Further, they called into question the CDL system, claiming that it counts as “a reproduction of the original, which only the copyright holder has the right to do” according to Robin Schard).

This lawsuit highlights the tension that exists between the Open Access movement and intellectual property law. No matter how many information professionals share Kahle’s dream of “universal access to all knowledge”, authors need an incentive to write, and we need authors for knowledge creation.

According to Robin Schard, the lawsuit filed by the four publishers against the Internet Archive is “tentatively scheduled for trial in November 2021.” I will be interested to see the outcome, particularly whether Controlled Digital Lending comes under fire as an unfair system for publishers and authors. As the Internet Archive approaches its 25th birthday (as do I), I find myself wondering what the next 25 years will bring, and whether copyright law will be forced to bend to the changing digital landscape, or the Internet Archive (and other digital archives and libraries) will be forced to reign itself in from its ambitious goal of providing free information to anyone who seeks it. 

– Lizzie George, INFO 653-01

Sources:

https://anniversary.archive.org/

https://archive.org/about/

https://archive.org/details/duneherb00herb/mode/2up

https://controlleddigitallending.org/

Robin Schard (2021) Hachette Book Group v. Internet Archive: Is There a Better Way to Restore Balance in Copyright?, Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 24:1-2, 53-58, DOI: 10.1080/10875301.2021.1875100

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Posted in Archives, Libraries, Open Access

Diversity, Ethics, and Inclusion in Ephemeral Documents: Zine Archival vs. Institutional Interference  

Big Zine Little Zine… (via the Queer Zine Archive Project) 

Libraries, Archives, and other memory and information preservation locations have been creating catalogs and repositories of a wide variety of documents since their inception. Traditionally associated with books, periodicals, artistic and historical artifacts, and more recently film and audio and now digital media, the memory institutions have focused most frequently on the preservation of institutionally sanctioned and published documents and texts, issued from commercial or academic channels. 

The 20th century brought an onslaught of new types of documents that were created and disseminated through nontraditional methods, allowing both for the voices and messages of unheard communities to be recorded, shared, and made into knowledge for a broader and/or new subsection of the consuming public. One outlet that exemplifies this turn in information creation is the advent and growth of zine publishing.

Said to have grown out of the alternative press and publishers that rose to prominence in the 1960s, zines are different in their own right because of the radical nature of their messages, the DIY nature of their creation, publication, messaging, and user engagement, and their basis in a variety of actively countercultural modes that focus on an unmediated address by and to marginalized communities. 

Many archivists and heritage site professionals underscore the value of zine preservation as a unique resource of evidence of ephemeral and undocumented scenes and events. Additionally, this cataloging of outsider culture and institutionalization of it’s physical cultural output allows for a hopeful security for both the volatile nature of the physical resources as well as the threatened nature of the groups they represent by allowing them entry into the mainstream cultural heritage, perhaps allowing these groups increased access to funding, visibility, and growth among larger publics. 

A number of zine archives have emerged in the past 25 or so years that have worked with zine creators and countercultural communities as well as dedicated archivists and catalogers to preserve this broad collection of primary resources that allow inimitable insight into these cultures frequently ignored by mainstream institutions. 

However, zine archival presents a twofold problem to current modes of archiving. One problem is the ephemeral and rare nature of many zine documents. Traditional zines were self-published, self-created, distributed through unorthodox and unconventional channels, and with a varying (though often low) number of copies created for dissemination. Both finding and preserving zines requires vast human resources in collecting and cataloging these rare documents. 

The second problem is a concerted choice on the part of zine creators to operate outside of (and thus be archived outside of) existing institutions — places that the zines’ content was often directly speaking against in their messaging. By allowing zines to be archived by established libraries or museums, many zine creators and the marginalized  communities to which they speak, fear they allow their outsider heritage to be subsumed into the institution and admit a need for institutional sanctioning to validate their outsider production and threaten their hard-fought-for autonomy. 

This two-sided coin that is the problem of countercultural institutional archival brings to mind an ethical question regarding the growth, visibility and inclusion of outsider cultures in institutional archives. A counterculture is defined by its opposition to the mainstream culture and thus its acceptance into, and adoption by, the institutions and constituents of that mainstream can threaten the very core of cultures these institutions are hoping to preserve and the problems of marginalization and oppression/suppression they are hoping to change. That said, their inclusion may offer solutions to many of the issues of oppression and marginalization included in the contents of these documents and the activist issues inherent to the cultures they represent. 

Screenshot, Library of Congress Zine Web Archive Homepage 

Since the beginning of this debate, zine archives have been formed in both institutions and the more zine-ethics aligned preservation of the community Archive. Examples of institutional zine archives include the Library of Congress’ Zine Archive, academic library archives like the Barnard Zine Library or the Riot Grrl Collection at the Fales Collection at NYU, or at public libraries like the DC Punk Archive Zine Library at the DC Public Library. Community archives in include Queer Zine Archive Project, Love Your Rebellion’s Punk Zine Archive,  or the Anchor Archive and Zine Library.

This dilemma poses a number of questions for a Information Science professional as well as those interested in preserving cultural heritage. Can a counterculture be included in the mainstream without losing its inherent ethos as outside of that institution? And, if not, how can institutions work towards inclusion if they must operate at a disadvantage towards the acquisitions of outsider materials? 

As libraries and other cultural institutions work actively in the turn towards diversity and inclusion in collection and access, the inclusion of zines will continue to remain an important issue that highlights the issues at hand in Information Science’s goals of gatekeeper removal, broader resource inclusion, and the question of interference that comes with the institutionalization of any sort of new information and information-in-progress that is represented by zine content. 

Works Cited:

Berthoud, H. (2017). Going to New Sources: Zines at the Vassar College Library. The Serials Librarian, 72(1-4), 49–56. https://doi.org/10.1080/0361526x.2017.1320867

Chepasiuk, R. (1997). The Zine Scene: Libraries Preserve the Latest Trend in Publishing. American Libraries, 28(2), 68–70.

Fife, K. (2019). Not For You? Ethical Implications of Archiving Zines. Punk & Post Punk, 8(2), 227–242. https://doi.org/10.1386/punk.8.2.227_1

  • Maya Lekach, 653-01
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Posted in Archives, Knowledge and Truth, Libraries, Library, Museums, Preservation, Research Projects

The Database of Revelation: Church Clarity and the Information We Seek

#ClarityisReasonable is the hashtag employed by Church Clarity, a crowdsourced database that seeks to serve as an online resource for churchgoers. More specifically, the site allows people to both search and submit churches for inclusion in the database that are scored based on their policies and positions taken in regards to the LGBTQ community and women in the clergy. In an interview with NBC, Church Clarity co-founder Tim Schraeder explained, LGBTQ worshippers can find themselves joining a church only to find out later—usually when an important event such as a baptism or wedding arises—that they aren’t as welcome as they initially thought: It is a discovery that can cause harm.

To submit a church to the Church Clarity database, you have to fill out an online form. Once completed, a “team of Church Clarity Volunteers follows a simple, yet consistent method, assigning a score to each church based on how easy it is to find the church’s actively enforced policies on its website”; further, Church Clarity also “reach[es]out to each church that we review, offering them the opportunity to proactively disclose their policies and earn our best score, Verified Clear. Whether or not they reply, our team then triple checks the information that we have available and we  publish the church to our public database. Once the information is triple checked, it’s published to our public database,” according to their website.

Church Clarity homepage

As of September 21, 2021, 5,428 churches have been submitted to Church Clarity. More than 1,000 have yet to be published. While this lag may indicate a lack of volunteer power, it may also be a product of the organization’s fairly intensive review policy. When a diner eats at a restaurant and then assigns a star-rating to an eatery on Yelp, there is not too much at stake (or arguable) about their experience and the validity of their review. Whether or not a church has welcoming policies, however, is of greater gravity to both the potential community member and the church itself as an institution.

What information do we want to know about churches (and other centers of religious life)?
When religious organizations are not publicly forthcoming about their stances on certain groups and issues, what is one to do?

While businesses, restaurants, and companies can be found in any number of rated lists reviewed and published by the traditional media (e.g. “Top Ten Best Companies to Work for in America, “Best Japanese Restaurants in New York City”, etc.) or crowdsourced through apps and websites (e.g. Yelp, Glassdoor, Trip Advisor, Google Reviews etc.), Church Clarity taps into another “industry” of sorts where crowdsourced information, when made searchable and accessible, can be immensely useful and meaningful. Ultimately, this project and its resultant database are a grassroots effort to collect, categorize, and organize churches while centering concerns especially relevant to those who are LGBTQ and women.

– Lily Susman (INFO 653-01)

Citations:

Compton, J. (2017, October 26). OutFront: New Site Rates Churches Based on Transparency of LGBTQ Policies. NBC News.

https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/outfront-new-site-rates-churches-based-transparency-lgbtq-policies-n814576

Church Clarity (n.d.). About. Church Clarity. Retrieved September 20, 2021. https://www.churchclarity.org/about

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Posted in Cataloging

The Criterion Collection, Black Filmmakers, and a New Archive

In 2019, when Charles Burnett’s To Sleep With Anger (1990) was introduced to the Criterion, he was one of two living Black Americans to have their film added to the organization’s catalog.

Over 1,000 films and 450 directors are represented in the Criterion Collection — just last summer, in August of 2020, less than one percent of these works had African American directors. The Criterion, known for its exclusively hand-picked titles for DVD rereleases featuring scores of unseen commentary and special features, has established itself as a great gatekeeper of the modern film canon. As the New York Times piece “How the Criterion Collection Crops Out African-American Directors” by Kyle Buchanan and Reggie Ugwu details, since its inception in the eighties, the Criterion has built on its reputation as an organization deeply committed to preserving the art of filmmaking and the auteurs behind them — “directors are treated with a level of awe usually afforded to movie stars and a film’s critical reputation outweighs its box office receipts.” (Buchanan and Ugwu) This focus on bonus and behind the scenes features, usually with contribution from the filmmakers themselves if at all possible, is a demonstration of the Criterion’s values as a film archive; not only is the preservation, restoration, and distribution of the film itself a priority, but the intention and lived experience of creating the art is worthy of documentation as well. 

The article goes into just how abysmal the Criterion’s statistics really are — at the time of its publication last year, only one black female director was included, and other marginalized groups didn’t fare that much better, “about 11 percent of directors were Asian; 2 percent were Latino; and about 7 percent were women.” (Buchanan and Ugwu) I do know that since this article’s publication, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s (who is quoted as always hoping that one day, her name would be included in an announcement of new additions) Love & Basketball (2000) has been added to the collection, as well as Regina King’s One Night in Miami (2020). Clearly, some of the long deserved criticism is bleeding through, but it’s certainly nothing to lavishly praise after years of all white, all male leadership turning down submissions like Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) because they “didn’t understand what they were looking at.” (Buchanan and Ugwu)

With a catalog of over one thousand films and now a streaming service, this profile of the Criterion serves as a clear example of the hierarchy that emerges within the selection process of an arts organization with this much influence. While numerous white male directors may be represented many times over and awarded with the prestige the Criterion stamp comes with, black films and black filmmakers are not only missing from the conversation of conceptually belonging to some nebulous idea of canon, they are being denied an audience, and in extension, a fighting chance at being remembered. So much old Hollywood cinema is already lost to time and bureaucracy. The physical process of restoration often requires the investment of institutions, and we’ve discussed how problematic this can be given what institutions will often deem valuable and not. 

An excellent form of opposition to this recently emerged in Maya Cade’s new project, the Black Film Archive (which I’m excited to see highlighted in Isaac’s post!). Highlighting Black cinema going back to the 1910’s, all of which are available on either open access or subscription streaming platforms, fills the gap in the conversation around classic cinema that organizations like the Criterion have failed to consider at an institutional level. 

As simply as one could make the Criterion versus BFA question a case of the traditional, systemic power of old white men and their outdated values about art versus an inclusive social liberation of film through digital access, these two areas are more intrinsically linked than the average Hollywood purist would have anyone believe. As Cade points out, “either major streamers are rarely attracted to adding these titles or bury them under the glut of bigger titles” (Daniels). These platforms are still defined by their capital and ability to monetize, where the rich history of Black Cinema is severely underestimated. Nonetheless, the project endeavors to construct a user-friendly catalog that introduces audiences to a vast history of unsung cinematic works, all of which seems to have been done completely as a labor of love by Cade. Fortunately for all cinephiles, this vital work can hopefully begin to undo the harm of the restrictive canons we have long enshrined. 

Works Cited: 

Buchanan, Kyle and Ugwu, Reggie. “How the Criterion Collection Crops Out African-American 

Directors.” New York Times, 20 August 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/20/movies/criterion-collection-african-americans.html. Accessed 20 September 2021. 

Daniels, Robert. “Black Film Archive Wants to Fill Your Streaming Gaps.” Vulture, 2 September 2021, https://www.vulture.com/2021/09/black-film-archive-streaming-cinema-history.html. Accessed 20 September 2021.

Catherine Hartup (653-01)

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Posted in Archives, Preservation

A Collection With No Home

Richard Demarco has been in influential figure in the Scottish artwork for over 6 decades, and his extensive archive of more than a million photographs, 4,500 contemporary works of art, unique video footage of artistic events, and his personal correspondence with artists, gallerists, and universities spanning is decades long career, is at risk of being lost. Demarco, who has been called “the last great titan of Scottish Art,” is 91 years old and has been trying without avail to find a permanent home for his collection which documents the art scene in Edinburgh, his work as a gallery curator and owner, and the only existing archive of the Edinburgh Festival. The National Galleries of Scotland has offered his collection a spot in their new collection center which still yet to be built, but Demarco, doesn’t want to risk leaving his collection without a secured home. He is also wary of lending it to the National Galleries where it may end up “locked away,” Demarco would prefer that his collection be used as an “educational resource.” While his collection now resides in his own personal archive, it has recently been damaged by a flood and Demarco knows that once he is gone there will not be resources for its continued upkeep, and that he must pass it along to an established institution.

This is an interesting dilemma – of course no institution or museum is obligated to take his collection, but the loss of these works would be a loss to art history and future researchers. Demarco is from Edinburgh and his work has value for the history of that city. Demarco was deeply involved with the Edinburgh Festival and put on many art exhibitions at the festival over his life which included many showings of now-famous artists when they were beginning their career. He helped give artists like Marina Abramovic an early stage for their work and exposed new audiences to their work. The loss of the archive of the largest arts festival in the world would be a great loss to the city and to new art movements or art spaces who might want to look back for inspiration and lessons on place building.

Even if people outside of Scotland are not interested in Demarco’s collection or think his personal work or the archive of the festival do not merit a place in their collection, he was friends and collogues with Joseph Beuys, one of the most influential artists working in the second half of the 20th century. Modern and contemporary art museums prize Joseph Beuys’ artwork and he is sure to be mentioned in any art history textbook that covers that period; so, wouldn’t people be interested in preserving the photographs and papers of an artist who was one of the biggest champions of Beuys’ work? Someone he corresponded with frequently and who influenced his work and at some points help make his work possible? Outside of Beuys, Demarco programmed exhibits at the Traverse Theatre and Traverse Gallery and then at his own Galley, the Richard Demarco Gallery which were important platforms for Scottish artists and artists from all around Europe.  

Richard Demarco and Joseph Beuys (1980) Image from the Richard Demarco Archive

Reading articles on this issue with Demarco’s collection has made me wonder what other collections were lost to time or unable to find a permanent home? What gaps in history could be filled if memory institutions were better funded and able to house larger collections? While I know that collections that do make their ways into archives are still never safe from some flood or fire or some other disaster (like the flood that has already damaged parts of Demarco’s archive), it is surprising to me that Demarco’s archive has not been given a permanent home at one of these institutions. As time moves forward, we will always be left with a constantly growing mine of information and artifacts to preserve which take a lot of resources and time to manage. Do we have a responsibility to preserve collections, especially one-of-a-kind collections like Demaco’s? Should collections be split up so somethings can be saved or is there something valuable in their entirety? What kind of agency can and should living people have over where their collections end up and how they are to be used? I am excited to delve into questions like this throughout my time at Pratt and in my future work.

-Bonnie Whitehouse, INFO-653-01

Sources:

https://www.demarcoarchive.com/richard-demarco

https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/homenews/19593386.richard-demarco-threatens-burn-arts-archive/

https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/richard-demarco-considers-burning-vast-edinburgh-festival-art-archive-as-no-one-gives-a-damn-about-it-3388648

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Posted in Archives, Museums, Preservation

Cameron’s World: an internet archive like no other

One day while teaching a web design class I took when I was an undergraduate at NYU, my professor offhandedly mentioned that one of his favorite websites was one called “Cameron’s World.” This simple remark ended up radically changing my conception of the ways in which we can interact with and record the digital world. 

Visit cameronsworld.net, and you’ll be immediately thrust into an information organization system that is truly unique. As described by Cameron Askin, the website’s creator, “Cameron’s World is a web-collage of text and images excavated from the buried neighbourhoods of archived GeoCities pages (1994–2009).” GeoCities, a web-hosting service popular in the 90s, allowed people to create and customize their own web pages. At a time when the internet was still in the process of becoming an integral part of the human experience, users experimented with this new tool that allowed them to create their own unique digital “space.” The service was discontinued in 2009. In Cameron’s World, what feels like an endlessly scrollable page of gifs, pixel art, novelty fonts, and quirky quotes (all pulled from archived GeoCities pages) evokes a fascinating sense of dream-like exploration — find a clickable gif of a skeleton playing a trumpet, or a lava lamp, or a quote like “With as many colors as you can get from your monitor,” and you can visit pages on a range of topics, from genealogy to music to romance. 

Cameron’s World offers a glimpse into the way that creativity can transform our experience of an archive. It proves that creating a space that feels truly special can be just as valuable as following conventional methods of organization when recording the “material” traces of history. Thinking about these topics with an open mind and a creative spirit might be able to help us as information professionals design knowledge organization systems that are not only useful, but a joy to use. 

— Althea Meer, INFO 653-01

https://www.cameronsworld.net/

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Posted in Archives, Born Digital

Rediscovering Historical Black Cinema: The “Black Film Archive”

Homepage of The Black Film Archive

The “Black Film Archive” catalogs Black films from 1915-1979 that are available on streaming services. The archive aims to make historically and culturally significant Black films accessible by providing cultural contexts and where you can watch the film. I believe this kind of work is important in preserving the social memory of historically marginalized communities.

The Black Film Archive “Letter from the Founder”

By providing a user-friendly and accessible website Maya Cade, the creator, encourages further exploration of Black cinema. This interactive cataloging format is critical in recontextualizing and remembering the foundational contributions to cinema the Black diaspora has had.

— Isaac Womack (653-01)

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Posted in Cataloging, Archives, Open Access, Preservation