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Remarks, ramblings and random ruminations from the Rev-Master

2002 April


I've made a discovery! Well, actually I read about it in a computer magazine. It's the Wayback Machine, an endeavour to archive the whole of the internet on an ongoing basis, and it's something that may have far-reaching implications for internet publishers of all kinds.

Take an online magazine such as This Way Up, which publishes articles and short stories for a limited period. An author grants TWU the right to display an article or story on its website for a specified period, in return for a modest payment. When that period expires, the piece is removed from the site and the author is free to do with it whatever he or she wishes. This usually means offering 'reprint rights' for the piece elsewhere, either online or in print. A publication that is prepared to buy reprint rights for a story -- for a limited period -- is likely to specify that during that time the piece must not appear elsewhere.

But type www.archive.org into your internet browser and you'll find yourself at the Wayback Machine, where the internet is archived. Type in the URL of the website where a story or article was previously published (say, www.wayup.co.uk) and you'll find previous issues, for example, of This Way Up that are not currently online at the TWU website. Very useful, no doubt, but if a story has been taken off the TWU website because publication rights have expired, that doesn't mean it's not available on the web. It's still sitting there in the Wayback Machine's copy.

The people who run the Wayback Machine say they will remove pages on request, even though this will impair the integrity of the Wayback Machine's purpose of providing as complete an archive as possible. But must online magazine editors make it part of their routine to send a request to remove certain pages with each new issue? And what about other archives, Google.com, for instance? The Google search-engine caches the pages it indexes, so even if such a page has changed on the original website, Google has a copy of how it used to be.

It currently takes the Wayback Machine two months to sweep the web, so anything that appears for less than that time has a chance of being missed. Otherwise, it's likely to be in the archive.

We have to accept that once something is published on the internet, it will be available somewhere on the web for all time, copyright notwithstanding. Anyone can publish on the web, at practically no cost. By the time objections are raised, for whatever reason, it's likely someone has published a copy elsewhere.

Far from being the essence of ephemera, publishing on the web may be the the most permanent publishing of all.

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Copyright 2002 Paul S. Jenkins


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