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iPres2008 – first impressions

iPres2008 finished yesterday, and overall it was a useful and informative event. It took place a mere 15 minutes walk from our current home, so we took advantage of its proximity and attended en masse.

Chris Rusbridge has already done an excellent job of some near-real-time reporting on the sessions, and I’m not going to try to replicate that level of detail in this post. As a first-time attendee at iPres, I was impressed by the professional mix attending, which took in hard-core computer science, digital preservation and curation folk, repository managers and those from the traditional custodial professions. In that respect it was very reminiscent of the early DLM-Forums, which were eye-opening for me when I attended the first one in 1996. But it was also interesting to observe that, just as DLM was dominated by archivists and records managers, iPres is a very library-oriented event. For example, those who expressed a desire for a Europe-wide event bringing together all those with an interest in digital preservation didn’t seem to be aware that the DLM-Forums existed.

One positive observation (of many) is that there is more reassuring news on the oft-vexed issue of IPR barriers to digital preservation. At the close of day 1, we heard a summary of the findings of the international survey on the impact of copyright law on digital preservation. That indicated that the UK had one of the strictest set of constraints of all the countries looked at – in terms of who is permitted to carry out certain acts in the name of preservation and what those acts are. Other countries have more relaxed exemptions and that doesn’t appear to be causing the major rightsholdfers any significant financial loss. That should give us hope for some change in the law in the UK at least. And Horst Foster, making the keynote speech opening day 2, appeared to echo this at the European level, implying that the case for change had been made and accepted, although he was notably cautious about making any promises as to when this change might come about.

That’s an improvement on the situation in Europe a few years ago, though, when I was at one of a number of expert panels helping the European Commission to frame the forthcoming research questions and challenges in the digital preservation arena. At that time we were all warned off mentioning the (C) word at all – it seemed to have a somewhat toxic flavour. It’s really heartening to see that things have changed.

One should add a note of caution, however. After Adrienne Muir had commented favourably on how Australian law allows institutions such as the national library and archives to bypass DRM systems in order to preserve material, Colin Webb injected a note of caution. It is apparently still illegal to manufacture or to import a device to Australia which allows a DRM system to be bypassed. But if the national library happens to find such a device on its premises, it can use it without fear of breaking the law. Still some way to go, then, before the law is ‘joined up and working’ – the strapline of iPres2008.

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