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Study Examines Copyright Permissions Culture in Software Preservation, Implications for Cultural Record

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A report released today, The Copyright Permissions Culture in Software Preservation and Its Implications for the Cultural Record, finds that individuals and institutions need clear guidance on the legality of archiving legacy software to ensure continued access to digital files of all kinds and to illuminate the history of technology.

The first product of an Association of Research Libraries (ARL) project funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the report is based on extensive research and interviews with software preservation experts and other stakeholders. This research will inform a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Software Preservation to be published in fall 2018, and to be supported by webinars, workshops, online discussions, and educational materials. The Code will advance the mission of memory institutions to safeguard the digital record and promote research that engages it.

Libraries, archives, and museums hold thousands of software titles that are no longer in commercial distribution, but institutions lack explicit authorization to preserve these titles or make them available. Memory institutions also hold a wealth of electronic files (texts, images, data, and more) that are inaccessible without this legacy software. The report released today documents high levels of concern among professionals worried that while seeking permission to archive software is time-consuming and usually fruitless, preserving and providing access to software without express authorization is risky. Meanwhile, digital materials languish, and the prospects for their effective preservation dim.

In interviews with the project team, software preservation professionals made it clear that users and uses for legacy software are as various as human inquiry, and will multiply over time. In the words of Jessica Meyerson, a founder of the Software Preservation Network, “our cultural record is increasingly made up of complex digital objects.” Another interviewee invoked technology-investor Marc Andreessen’s argument that “software is eating the world,” observing that access to the digital cultural record is itself dependent on software.

A Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Software Preservation will help this community overcome legal uncertainty by documenting a consensus view of how fair use—the legal doctrine that allows many value-added uses of copyrighted materials—applies to core, recurring situations in software preservation. Fair use has become a powerful tool for cultural memory institutions and their users, allowing them to realize the potential of stored knowledge with due respect for the interests of copyright holders. (See ARL’s 2012 Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries.) Fair use holds the same potential where software preservation in concerned.

Read the report, The Copyright Permissions Culture in Software Preservation and Its Implications for the Cultural Record, by co–principal investigators Patricia Aufderheide of the American University School of Communication, Brandon Butler of the University of Virginia Library, Krista Cox of the Association of Research Libraries, and copyright scholar Peter Jaszi.

To stay up to date on news about this project, watch the ARL website, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or subscribe to our email news lists. For more information, contact Krista Cox, krista@arl.org.

About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.

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