For the Week of February 7, 2005
I was just settling in to work recently when my past came down the stairs.
We were getting some work done on our attic, and workmen were hauling what was there down here. Among the artifacts were some boxes, filled with a past I could not recapture.
The boxes contained 51/4 inch floppy disks. Most were filled on my Kaypro, a CP/M machine I bought for $1,795 (plus another thousand for a printer and 300 baud modem) back in 1982. Others were filled on a succession of IBM PCs I bought in 1984, 1986 (an XT clone) and 1989 (an AT clone).
Even if I could still run CP/M (which I can't), and even if I could find a 51/4 inch drive (which I can't) the disks would likely be useless. Time spent by magnetic media in an attic, freezing and burning alternately through the years, is going to do that.
I got another shock when jogging. The CD I loaded kept skipping, stopping, going silent then cutting back in. This wasn't the first CD to go toes-up on me. When loading my music collection to the hard drive I found several that could barely be read, and which, when played, were unlistenable. My son rented "The Lord of the Rings" on DVD over the weekend, and we found several places where the picture cut out, after which the sound cut out until we re-started.
To those who only saw an old lady on "Perry Mason" or "Bewitched" in the 1960s, it may be hard to believe that Zazu Pitts was once hot stuff. But in 1923 she was, indeed, a great young actress. Her masterwork was a silent called "Greed." Turner Classic Movies recently spent millions of dollars restoring "Greed," or trying to restore it. Large chunks of the master print were simply gone, crumbled to dust, and they filled in with still pictures.
They talk about that a lot, how movies are crumbling because the media they were stored on was unstable. And here I see it in my own home, my own past crumbled to dust at my feet.
The papers I wrote for back then are yellowed, but readable. Had I done analog recordings I could still play them. The point is that, as we move forward in time, the media we're using are becoming increasingly unstable.
The best hope seems to be archiving to disk, and repeatedly copying that archived, which is what we do on this medium. But even here there are gaps. CMP Media editors decided to trash my old "Interactive Age Daily," from the mid-1990s, and most of it is lost. Copyright police regularly protest Archive.Org's efforts to keep the past of the Internet alive.
It's not that I consider myself a Shakespeare, an Ibsen, even a Gould or a Card. But it would be nice if my children, when they face their own mortality in their 20s and 30s, could go back to their father's words, and see how he dealt with it, what he was really like, after his own memory of those times has faded, when all they can see (if they can see anything) is a burned-out old husk, filled with old stories and useless memories.
The subject is highly relevant to copyright. What we have today is a copyright regime that is truly eternal, because the copyright extends beyond the life of what is copywritten. We also have a self-serving interpretation of copyright, by the copyright industries, which "sells" you content only on the medium to which it was pressed, and demands new payments for each new medium the same content is to be passed to.
It's a recipe for disaster, especially with material that loses its popularity and, thus, becomes worthless to move. Moving it is the only way to save it, and moving it costs money. There's not only no money with which to move it, but there are lawyers who will keep you from moving it if there remains any economic value in it. It's a classic Catch-22.
This may be the best reason yet for copyright reform, namely to protect the material in an era where media deteriorates so quickly. The specific hard drive where this is saved now will go bad in a few years, and if the words aren't moved, the ' e l*st. Fore1 r a1 ever. (They're lost. Forever and ever.)
Don't let that happen to your work, or anyone else's. We need copyright reform to protect old material without economic value, and to protect your right to retain the economic value you put out to buy it.
Do it for Zazu.
In partnership with ZDNet, I'm now helping to produce a special blog on Open Source.
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout, a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.
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Clued-in is Charles Cooper's defense of Streamcast and Grokster. When the law tries to control technology, then innovation moves away.
Clueless is Microsoft refusing to update pirated Windows in order to get more license revenue. It endangers everyone's system for a narrow agenda.
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