Science, People & Politics, issue 1, Volume i, Volume II, published 4th January, 2009.

Legal deposit and the wealth of nations

Currently, says Mr Andrew Davis, who is the Legal Deposit & Digital Acquisitions Co-ordinator at the British Library, the legal deposit advisory panel continues to wrestle with what recommendations to make to the Department for Culture Media and Sport in the UK for regulations governing the legal deposit of electronic publications. I do not know what the other national depositories such as the Library of Congress and Bibliotecheque Nationale (both of which have, as well as the British Library, given my past work safe housing) are doing about this subject, but I imagine they are all busily emailing one another and writing position papers.

They have a tough job given that electronic publications can be on line or offline, can be a website, a CD, or traditional publications digitised and hosted by a website. The website might be akin to a leaflet or akin to broadcasting, with words disappearing from cyberspace as they are moment by moment changed and modified.

What to do?

I suppose for rapidly changing words on open websites one could offer licences as one does to broadcasters. It could be a revenue earner, but that might reverse the massive democratisation and burgeoning of freedom of expression, and the emotional outlet that the Internet offers. So that would be a shame.

As things stand now, says Mr Davis, what is likely to be regulated first are free websites. I hope those regulations are not draconian or such as to discourage beginners from playing openly with ideas among their friends online. And open sites without passwords are actually not really that different from nipping down the pub, where injudicious rants and juicy gossip can be overheard. Obviously incitement to hatred of individuals or groups is a bad thing, but also credit must be given to the listener who filters what they hear and may not end up incited to anything at all no matter how angry someone is. And the ranter may feel better as a result of letting off steam. There are, after all, so many websites that one can easily be lost in the crowd.

As for the deposit of websites for professional purposes, say one that carries a magazine, a political campaign and a sole tradership, such as my own website, how often would that be archived and why. I want to archive the magazine. I want to turn the political campaign into paper political pamphlets - so they anyway would have to be deposited, but I see little point in archiving the sole tradership element of the website.

With respect to the magazine, it is a small magazine, but with some very good names as advisors and some good work published. I am operating on a shoe string and am the general dogsbody from production to editor etc. This means I am working with basic html, a good understanding of print journalism from B to B, to trade and tech, to consumer and the odd newspaper story, but with utter bewilderment in a world of search engine optimisation. I am, however, reading the newsletters that come my way from those who attach ads to searches rather than editorial, as in my world. So perhaps these mysteries will be revealed.

I want to think that I will one day carry adverts as diverse as those I have seen in the online version of the International Herald Tribune. So one day I will need to hitch hike with a search engine campaign.

Given that in the electronic world the articles can remain as vehicles for advertising for as long as they are open access, topical and findable I obviously want as a new publisher to exploit this to develop whatever revenue streams I can, and that means some alternate means of deposit of editorial and adverts must be found because both need the security of legal deposit, and cutting the link between advertising and editorial can in some circumstances take half the message away from an advert, which rather defeats the object of advertising in the first place.

So I have spent the past few days making up my own rules as I slowly draw together the elements on the website of the magazine I have been building for three years into a coherent stand alone electronic publication that I can put in a compressed file and on a cd and send to the British Library. I have absolutely no idea whether they are going to accept what I send them but Mr Davis assures me they are developing platforms for all technologies and that they do have a few html publications.

My first deposit has only some static house adverts, but I would like to think that in future I could publish supplements to the title if I were to sell ads against already published work and that I could include mini movie scripts or dynamic html code or javascript or cartoons, along with the advertisers' name and location online and against a particular article or issue.

My other self imposed rule has been that the version of the magazine I send to the British Library will not carry script for Google ads because I have no a priori control over what Google serves to my pages, but I will keep the script on the pages of the open access online version of the magazine on my own website during the time that I try to make the magazine strong enough to stand alone. And in the version I am sending to the British Library I have disabled links away from the magazine to other sites, whilst keeping the urls in the text. I am happy to keep the links live on my own website.

The British Library claims to explore the world's knowledge, so it now has a difficult balancing act to perform: on the one hand protecting novel publishing ideas and ways of building publications in the digital world, whilst drawing up guidelines to protect what is deposited with them. From my own perspective the cost of entry in every way to publishing a magazine would have been too high if deposit had been mandatory from the beginning. So I hope deposit for electronic publications remains voluntary but that the British Library does not turn any publishers away.
Helen Gavaghan, 4th January, 2009.


GavaghanCommunications Science, People & Politics©. All rights reserved.