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I'm Andrew. I write about the past and future of tech, music, media, culture, art, and activism. This is my blog.

Document Your Art: How to Archive

Posted: January 16, 2018

Yesterday I railed against the ways that our culture is disappearing thanks to lots of little decisions that we make. If you missed that discussion, you can see it here and there is an earlier related discussion here. Now I want to specifically talk about a few methods you can take as a creator and as a content consumer to prevent things from disappearing (assuming, you know, that you view the preservation of the art and media of our culture as a goal.)

Creators

In my last post, I put some focus on the artists as the first line in archival. This is because the creator of a thing often (but not always) has the best copy of a thing, and the most variations of a thing, They also have the most legal room to archive a thing. So I’m going to start by talking about ways that you, as a creator, could archive your work.

Ways artists can facilitate the archival of their work with a minimum of effort:

Don’t sell or distribute things you make with DRM if at all possible.

Modern copyright law (in the US, at least) says that people can make “backup” or “archival” copies of things they purchase, as long as these copies are for personal use. If you include DRM on your thing, suddenly that becomes illegal, thanks to the DMCA.

If you want people to be able to legally have a backup of a thing, avoid DRM.

Upload your work to Archive.org

They are a non-profit based in the US with offsite backups in several other countries around the world. They run the Wayback machine and some other stuff, and they let you upload anything you make, for free, for as long as they continue to exist.

Any content you own can be uploaded. If it is Creative Commons or Public Domain content, you can specify that in the upload.

Creative Commons:

Do you know about Creative Commons? They write licences that allow you to grant some rights (like sharing exact copies) while retaining your full copyright, and maintaining a fair amount of control over the specifics.

They have a licence picker, with some explanation, here.

For example: I usually license my work cc-by. That means anyone can re-use or re-mix it, as long as they credit me.

Don’t want people remixing your work? That’s fine! Slap an “ND” on it, and that means that people can share copies (archive!) but they can’t make changes (No Derivatives.)

Want to make sure that derivative works retain the same license?, slap an SA on there. SA = Share Alike = derivatives must be distributed under the same terms.

Don’t want other people making money off your work? Slap an NC (non-commercial) on it. (I’m not a huge fan of NC, because I find it vague and confusing, but if it makes sense for you, go for it.)

If you share your content without DRM, and under a licence that allows (even just non-commercial) redistributing, that makes it legal for people that aren’t you to keep it in an archive and ensure it doesn’t stop existing.

If you upload your work to Archive.org, that means your content will be available for as long as archive.org is around.

Those three steps go a long way!

Other Tips

  • Post about your work publically, or submit it to a public index (like the one I’m building.)
  • If you’re using a CC licence, make it clear which one, and how you want to be attributed. Just saying “CC” or “creative commons” can be confusing.
  • Don’t get fooled in to equating copying and theft

Consumers

  • Contact your congresscritters and tell them how endlessly extending copyright is hurting culture. -Support organizations that work to preserve our culture (Libraries, the internet archive, Dust to Digital, Etc) or orgs that advocate for better laws (such as the EFF.)
  • Preserve personal copies of the things you purchase
    • Don’t assume that someone else is handling this. History has show us that they are not
  • When you find a creator that produces things you like and makes them available under a license that allows for copying:
    • Support that creator financially
    • Copy the hell out of the thing
    • Talk about the thing publically, so that other people can do 1 and 2 above.

These are not the only steps that creators and consumers can take to archive content, but they are the ones that require the least effort and the least modification to the things you already do. I’m sure, eventually, we’ll talk about more involved archiving methods (but ultimately, they mostly come down to variations on the above, coupled with hunting down the owners of the media, and offering them money.)

Indexing

Right now, I wanna spend a few minutes talking about the importance of indexing.

See, archives are great!

The internet archive specifically, is pretty magical in terms of its scope. But archives are only as good as their metadata and indexing, and that’s somewhere The Internet Archive occasionally falls short, mostly as a result of scope. When you’re trying to present an archive of,–well–everything? It becomes very difficult to convey any kind of meaningful categorization, assuming you get the content tagged correctly to begin with (which, when your crowd sourcing, is far from certain.)

So, as a creator or a consumer, one way that you can contribute to the preservation and longevity of our media is to create or contribute to indexes and catalogs. Unfortunately, Archive.org’s system for user contributions is pretty garbage, bordering on non-existent. Thankfully, all of their media can be linked to, and depending on the licence much of it can be downloaded and embedded. That means that external, publicly searchable sites can serve to supplement the archive’s own index.

Which is to say, when you find a neat thing in the public domain, or a neat thing licensed under a CC licence, or a neat DIY thing with a commercial licence on archive.org, it is really helpful if you tell people about it. A blog post, or a toot, or a link on a neocities page, or whatever is sufficient in most cases. Just make another reference to the thing sitting out in the void that someone might trip over.

What I’m working on

I want to have a website that catalogs the archives of the media we produce through Analog Revolution, as well as all my personal media, indexed by format, license, genre, age, author, and any other tag I can throw at it. On the same website, also have an index of as much PD content as I can, with the same metadata, and then a box through which folks can submit their own media and metadata to be included in the index.

Since all of the media would be hosted externally (through the internet archive, mostly) the actual site would be tiny and fast.

Sidebar on hosting things externally:

Don’t forget the lessons we learned from photobucket. Don’t assume that stuff hosted externally will live forever. If you can afford to, keep an offline copy. If you can afford to, rehost the content yourself. I can’t tell you how many software projects I can find references to, but all the download links point back to the same server that didn’t have a mirror and hasn’t been online in five years. Hopefully this won’t be a problem for the archive, but in case it becomes a problem, we need to have a backup plan.

And if this index thing sounds like something you want to help with, hit me up.

I’m all about collaboration.


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