The Scourge of Bit Rot

The Guardian has an interesting piece about Google vice president and Internet Hall of Fame inductee Vint Cerf and his advocacy for the preservation of our digital history.  Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Cerf warned about the prospect of a “forgotten generation, or even a forgotten century” due to “bit rot,” the loss of access to digital data from the degradation or destruction of physical media, the obsolescence and consequent disappearance of compatible software and hardware needed to access the data, and the legal barriers that stand in the way of efforts to preserve and archive important documents and creative works.  One of the most significant legal barriers is current copyright law, which often serves to prevent would-be archivists from making archival copies of protected works.  Such works may have historical or cultural significance, yet are being allowed to degrade or become inaccessible through neglect by the owners of the works, and being prevented by copyright law from archival preservation by others.  Moreover, the vast number of files and documents in the personal digital histories of individuals are frequently stored on degradable or obsolete media, and have a high risk of falling into an “information black hole.”  As Cerf states, “[w]hen you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the world wide web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history” to bit rot.  Cerf’s proposed solution has two parts.  First, we need to develop a form of “digital vellum” that will allow people to preserve and access obsolete files, no matter how old.  Second, we need to incorporate the rights of preservation “into our thinking about things like copyright and patents and licensing.”  Read the full article here.  Reposted from The Guardian.

 By Joi Ito (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Joi Ito (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.