September 10, 2004

The Internet, Libraries, and the Public Record 

"It is both a pity and a sign of the times that the libraries do not have recordings of both conventions for the civic review," writes Andrea Antulov in yesterday's Letters to the Editor section of the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. "I urge your readers to demand they ensure citizens have plentiful and easy access to historial, journalistic and civic records. After all, that was the purpose of libraries' creation, to ensure a literate, informed citizenship without regard to social class in order to protect democracy." WILLblog couldn't agree more, and Ms. Antulov's point aligns with a project we've been working on. We think things like convention speeches belong in the public domain, and anyone who wants to hear, view, or read transcripts of them should be able to freely and without hassle. The Internet could be that public library, and I know not everyone has access to the online universe at their homes, schools, and offices. But they do have access to the Internet at the physical library. So what's the problem? Simply this: Content like convention speeches on the Internet is "owned" and controlled by those who put it on their web sites. Whereas you as a citizen have a right to experience media coverage of the convention via television networks (if they bother to air it), and of course your local NPR station WILL-AM, you don't have a right to the audio and video records of these events. They're not in the local library, as Ms. Antulov attests. Here is a partial solution: NPR has all the convention speeches archived in RealAudio on the NPR web site. I spent a frustrating 15 minutes this morning tracking down all of the different pages that link to all of the content. (Maybe my search skills need work, but...) So here are the URLs that get you all the convention speeches: Republican National Convention: http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3877883 (Day One) http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3882508 (Day Two) http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3885136 (Day Three) http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3887311 (Day Four) Democratic National Convention: http://www.npr.org/politics/convention2004/dnc_schedule.html (All four days) All audio is encoded in RealAudio streaming format, meaning that without, ahem, special tools you can't download and save the audio. It's part of the public record, but the audio files aren't in the public domain. Some of us would like to change that. I suspect NPR would be more willing to contribute to that effort than, say, CNN which actually charges the online audience for streaming content. But for the Internet to fulfill its potential to serve the interests of citizenship and democracy, we must view it more as a public library than as a gated community. And keep stocking the shelves.

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