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Why the Future of the Book May Rest on Watermarking Text February 18, 2009

Posted by Greg Van Alstyne in Future of Media: The sBook, sLab Research.
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I had an epiphany arising from our recent sLab Explorations event on Rethinking the Book.

BAsedon some results from our workshop, that advocated “traceability” for quotations,  I had the idea that a means for “watermarking” digital text could solve a lot of future book design problems in one gesture. If any passage of text could be automatically traced back to its source, this mechanism could be designed to provide many valuable, even critical functions:

  • The dual function of “authoring” and “authority” can be served, not eroded
  • Text references that are cut and pasted could serve as their own footnote vectors
  • Attributions could be managed in various ways -authors could be compensated with cash or caché, as appropriate to the situation
  • Digital rights management (DRM) could be implemented in more flexible, more benign ways, leading toward a culture of proactivity, rather than what Lessig considers the crippling culture of permission of “all rights reserved”
  • It could give rise to digital archives that encourage rather than prohibiting copies; like an eternal flame that anyone can light their candle from.

The result could be lasting safety for digital culture, since few copies are vulnerable to failures and loss of various kinds. A remark was made that this idea underlies Ted Nelson’s early vision for hypertext, called Xanadu.

So, right after the sLab event I read in the NYTimes about a number of research efforts doing just this. The goal in this case was to protect recordds of the Rwandan genocide from digital rewriting of history… Check this:

A Tool to Verify Digital Records, Even as Technology Shifts
By JOHN MARKOFF
Published: January 26, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/science/27arch.html

The article discusses important initiatives by Brewster Kahle (Wayback Machine), Steward Brand (Long Now Foundation projects) and a Stanford Library initiative called LOCKSS (http://www.lockss.org/)

LOCKSS

“What is the LOCKSS Program? LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe), based at Stanford University Libraries, is an international community initiative that provides libraries with digital preservation tools and support so that they can easily and inexpensively collect and preserve their own copies of authorized e-content. LOCKSS, in its tenth year, provides libraries with the open-source software and support to preserve today’s web-published materials for tomorrow’s readers while building their own collections and acquiring a copy of the assets they pay for, instead of simply leasing them.

“The ACM award-winning LOCKSS technology is an open source, peer-to-peer, decentralized digital preservation infrastructure. LOCKSS preserves all formats and genres of web-published content. The intellectual content, which includes the historical context (the look and feel), is preserved. LOCKSS is OAIS-compliant; the software migrates content forward in time; and the bits and bytes are continually audited and repaired. Today LOCKSS is a thriving international community-based initiative with libraries and publishers working together with the shared goal to preserve e-content for the long-term. More than 300 leading scholarly publishers have granted permission for their content to be preserved by LOCKSS Alliance members.”

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Comments»

1. Rudy - February 19, 2009

Can you please explain your comment about DRM? I don’t know what you’re thinking of by flexible, benign and proactivity. Any examples?

Also, doesn’t your statement about DRM conflict with the last bullet point about copying?

Just curious if you could spell this out a bit. Thanks.


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