Saturday, October 9, 2010

Collecting UK online publications

It's not difficult to understand why copyright concerns aren't always tackled in scoping documents concerning digital futures (as mentioned in the previous post) - the topic is big enough that it probably merits a report entirely to itself. One angle on the copyright issue is the question of legal deposit for UK online materials. The UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently ran a consultation on the Collection and Preservation of UK Online Publications, to which there were a number of responses from various institutions.

The general recommendation from the Legal Deposit Advisory Panel (LDAP) to the Secretary of State for Culture (currently, Jeremy Hunt) was regulation-based harvesting and archiving - the libraries have a legal entitlement to UK domain sites, though by the nature of the material in question, the libraries will need to collect (or harvest) these materials directly themselves. Incidentally, 'agents' are mentioned as harvesting material on the behalf of libraries, which continues the theme of third party involvement in matters concerning digital management.

One of the more interesting sections of the report is that covering policies for deposit, access and use (p. 31). Despite defining online content as "available free of charge and without access restrictions" throughout the report, the LDAP recommends that "access must be confined to readers (and staff) using terminals, screens or devices that are controlled by the Libraries, and whilst they are on the Libraries’ premises". This takes the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 (which aimed to encompass digital publications but not websites - the 2003 Act calls them 'non-print publications') and applies it in a literal fashion to all online content, resulting in an apparent contradiction.

Having said that, while I'm not sure how threatened libraries really are by a transition to digital, this level of restriction could empower them as gatekeepers to the most complete collection of archived web content available - after all, the websites would not have continued to exist without their intervention, the live web is not the same as a depository and there would be multiple access points to this content throughout the UK. However, the idea of taking something that was once "available free of charge and without access restrictions" and making access restrictive is probably too much of a leap.

So far, web archiving in the UK has been permissions-based, rather than regulation-based. While the precedent for web archiving operated under a much more restrictive model, it could easily allow free access to all. It will be interesting to see if re-writing the legislation to accommodate this (if indeed it is re-written, I believe that there is going to be a second round of consultation, which is a positive sign) requires a compromise between ease of harvesting (ideally, regulation-based) and ease of access (free for everyone, anywhere in the UK).

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