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Culture & Religion

Is the Internet Deleting Humanity’s Historical Record?

Mistakes made 30 years ago have made much of the early digital age inaccessible to historians. Today, regulators are struggling to find ways to maintain a faithful historical record. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Many websites and blogs that catalog our contemporary (electronic) era could be lost by the time historians wish to investigate their content as clues to what our time was like. Stored data decay over time. NASA, for example has lost data from its earlier moon missions because the machines used to read the data were scrapped. “In 2010 the United States Copyright Office exempted publishers of online-only works from the duty of depositing a copy with the Library of Congress unless specifically requested.” And according to copyright law, circumventing anti-piracy software to copy and archive digital files is illegal. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Even if publishers were to print every electronic document they published, the data which lie behind those documents and give them meaning could be lost as software changes and loses the ability to open old files. Regulators have begun considering the problem. In May, the nation’s Copyright Office will hold public hearings to discuss exemptions to the ban on circumventing anti-piracy software. “Without a wider mandate for libraries, giving them the right to store both digital materials and the tools to open it, historians of the future will be unable to reconstruct our times.”

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