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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Usenet archives sold
Amy Alexander on 22 Feb 2001 12:29:48 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Usenet archives sold

On Thu, 22 Feb 2001, Heiko Recktenwald wrote:

> > a lot of the issue - something that started out as being distributed and
> > mirrored on servers throughout the world gets archived at what could be
> > considered a single point of failure, and the fun begins.
> The fun, hmm.. comparing usenet with napster because of the distributed
> structure. 

> Open source, what ? The database structure in itself ? 
>The  single messages, articles ? 

this is what's on the table. they are 2 separate issues, apparently
both under discussion. i think people would most like distributed access to
the archives, so they don't keep disappearing depending on what happens
to/because of a single corporate entity. they'd also like access to
the deja code for database searching and archiving, but people could
always write a new one.. (and i recall the deja system not working very
reliably anyway, so maybe that's all for the best... ) but with the archives
only held by one corporate entity, a corporation could disappear or do anything
with them...

>I remember well somebody claiming his
> copyright for good reasons, it was used to sell winmodem, urgghhh...

yes, this doesn't change. usenet posts have always been distributed
to many servers. they only funnel down to one place (deja/google) when
they become archived.  presuming, that is, that all the universities and other
servers that host usenet don't have backups. (rumors are starting
to circulate that some actually may.) but that doesn't change the
owners' copyright.  (also, open source is not inconsistent with copyright.
it generally makes use of copyright to keep work distributable; since
this is the opposite of its usual use this is called "copyleft." but
copyleft is in fact copyright.)

an interesting issue that's come up in yesterday's slashdot discussion
on the subject, is that evidently there is an expiration date on usenet
posts. that could mean that not only could efforts to make it distributed
have problems, but deja and google have been breaking the law all along!

in any case, it doesn't seem that deja/google has any more legal right to
copyrighted posts than a distributed effort would have..the posters
did not license the rights to deja/google either. (usual ianal disclaimer

> First of all, napster is, to say it mildly, expropriation of the
> artists. It has nothing to do with private copying or fair use and it is
> dangerous, if you like private copying, to mix those things. 

i was only referring to the distributed structure of usenet - which
it's had all along. we could of course start a whole discussion about 
whether it's actually the artists or the RIAA who are being 
expropriated by napster, but that would be
offtopic for this thread. 
in any case, i have absolutely no love of the napster corp.  
for a variety of reasons.. 

what i was talking about was the structural issue. when napster and gnutella
came out, they received a lot of attention for their distributed nature,
peer to peer issues, etc... because people were thinking of them in comparison
to the web - which generally isn't very distributed at all... peer to peer
distribution systems hold promise for things other than commercial pop
songs - such as alternative political speech - because it's so much harder
to censor something when it's copied onto thousands of systems. (the
freenet idea - should have mentioned them in my previous post.) napster,
it turns out, *does* have a single point of failure and only serves mp3's -
so it's not really of much use in this context.

what i was pointing out was that napster and gnutella didn't really invent the
distributed structure - usenet has been distributed for many years. it is
in some ways more like freenet, actually. but, as i mentioned in my earlier
post, it's not exactly like any of them. (posters don't usually have
their own servers; you can't really think of it
as peer to peer.) still, i think it should be remembered 
that usenet brought us the distributed structure long before napster,
gnutella, freenet, etc.  

> On the other hand, archiving usenet should be organised by some public
> entity. Maybe it is european thinking to think that it shouldnt be 
> organised this way, but the question of financing such a thing is
> something different. Bill Gates could give money to the Smithonean
> Institution of something like that. Isnt this a case of applied ethnology?
one issue is, *which* public entity? some have proposed the library 
of congress. they are apparently americans.. already some non-americans
have pointed out they'd rather see it in corporate hands, where they can
pay money or view ads on equal footing regardless of what country they live in...
the problem with entrusting it to any national public entity is that it
holds no obligation to any other country's citizens. should the UN 
take charge? that's not really fair to everybody either... or, should
every country have the option of having their own copy? we are then
back to the distributed archiving idea. another issue is, what
if we give it to the smithsonian, e.g., and they come up with a terrible
search and threading interface, so we can't find articles easily? if
anyone could have a copy of the archive, some of those people would
undoubtedly build better interfaces than the us government. :-)
but, this is traditional open source thinking... e.g., if everyone can have
access to the linux kernel, some of those people will produce easy
to install, convenient distributions with nice security features, etc....

btw, i don't think too many 15-year-olds are going to start archiving
usenet - that archive takes a *lot* of diskspace... serious inquiries
only for this task....

anyway, my point: usenet starts out as distributed: 
when you post to usenet, your post is
copied to servers all over the world who have chosen to subscribe to
that particular group. anybody can run a usenet server with the requisite
diskspace and bandwidth, just as anybody can run a webserver. 
but, due to diskspace limitations, most sites automatically delete
messages that are no longer current. so, it's all distributed already up until
the archiving... it doesn't seem so outrageous that the archiving
would be distributed also, and would probably result in making it more accessible
to more people than restricting it to one public entity.

btw, yesterday's slashdot discussion on this brings up some pretty good issues;
it's worth a read; at least a skim.

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