Sounds of history ‘in grave danger of disappearing’, say US experts

Friday, October 1, 2010

LONDON - Sound recordings which form a part of our cultural history are at the peril of disappearing, warns a comprehensive report from the US Library of Congress.

The report has warned of both the physical and legal barriers to the preservation of sound recordings old and new.

The report has also said that no comprehensive programme exists to preserve “born digital” recordings.

It reiterates the long-established fact that many digital media such as recordable CDs have a lifetime significantly shorter than earlier technologies.

“We’re finding that some of the older media like shellac discs and vinyl discs are quite stable, and if stored in reasonably good conditions will last another hundred or two hundred years,” the BBC quoted Sam Brylawski, co-author of the report, as saying.

“‘Born digital’ audio - things that are disseminated on the internet through websites or podcasts - are at great risk. We need to be able to have a process to harvest them and sustain the files,” he said.

Conversely, the 181-page report has also called for means to “enable institutions to share data about recordings held in common and to locate source recordings that are in the best condition to serve as candidates for preservation”.

The report goes on to examine the degree to which copyright law plays a role in the ability to duplicate-and thereby to more securely preserve-recordings.

“US copyright law impedes preservation and access in many ways and that needs to be looked at,” Mr Brylawski explained.

“In most European countries, the copyright for sound recordings is 50 years; in the US, there are no sound recordings in the public domain and there won’t be any until 2067.

A spokesman for the British Library said, “the decay of the storage format only tells half the story”.

“As the Library looks to continue in its role as custodian of the nation’s cultural and intellectual memory in the digital age, efforts are being made to not just ingest terabytes of data but also ensure we preserve the growing volume of important digital material being created in the UK.

“This is obviously a major challenge for the British Library, the Library of Congress, and any other institution or organisation that needs to preserve digital material for future access, whether it be a sound recording, a photograph or somebody’s health records,” spokesman added. (ANI)

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