Thursday, February 10, 2011

CCA Wades in on Bill C-32

Michael Geist notes today that the Canadian Council of Archives has submitted a brief to the Bill C-32 legislative committee regarding the lack of a provisions for breaking digital lock technology in legal circumstances.

Geist captures the corresponding snippet from the CCA brief:
Bill C-32 prohibits the circumvention of TPMs for legal purposes such as preservation activities used by archivists to protect the documentary heritage of Canada. This is completely unacceptable and is a matter of very grave concern to the Canadian archives community in the digital environment where obsolescence is both rapid and disastrous for long-term access. The CCA recommends that Bill C-32 be amended to provide that circumvention of TPMs is prohibited only when the circumvention is for the purpose of infringing copyright and that circumvention tools and services should be available for non-infringing uses.
Two notable points here for me. First, as the tech-delivery of preservable content becomes more complex, our ability to access that content becomes a much bigger factor than our willingness to preserve it. One can imagine a scenario where the Canadian government locks down digital video in an effort to recapture a few dollars. A couple decades pass, and that video collection becomes inaccessible because it is tied to the distributing vendor's technology.

The second point comes in the CCA's last sentence: "that circumvention tools and services should be available for non-infringing uses." This makes so much sense, and it's hard to imagine why this hasn't been considered. Breaking into a locked platform may soon become a required skill set for many modern archivists. This situation is similar to the 1980's when Archivists collected multiple variations of reel-to-reel players (in pristine condition) to provide access to older films. If you don't own the technology, the content is dead. Right? Now we must maintain historical collections of the circumvention tools required to provide future access to digital content.

If librarians and archivists don't unlock worthy digital collections now, or maintain the proper collections of tools to do so later, how can we conceivably access heritage collections in 20, 50 or 100 years?

If the tools aren't accessible, it simply won't happen.