“A digital thing lasts forever”

This comment over in the Ars forums:

The need for backups was more of an issue back in the days of magnetic media, where the originals could and did degrade over time to the point of being useless.

reminded me of this comment by Jack Valenti, former president of the MPAA:

Where did this backup copy thing come from? A digital thing lasts forever.

A while ago I bought GoldenEye on DVD. New discs of this Bond movie are not being made anymore so I bought it used. The disc did not have any noticable scratches yet all my DVD players were unable to play the last 30 minutes of the movie. Most likely a bad case of DVD rot.

Jack, DVDs do not last forever, but comments such as this one probably will:

I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.
— Jack Valenti, “Home Recording of Copyrighted Works,” Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives, April 12, 1982

12 thoughts on ““A digital thing lasts forever””

  1. Even ignoring things like DVD rot, digital things do not last as long as photos or film. Put a reel of film and DVD in separate vaults, each in their own ideal storage environments. After a 100 or 200 years, you can still watch the film, but will you be able to find a DVD player that still works? If you manage to build one, will you still be able to find a copy of DeCSS and an MPEG-2 decoder?

  2. Formats change, it’s irritating and also costs money to constantly having to move your data onto new media. You just have to constantly keep it alive. And if you skip one upgrade you’ve lost. My old Amiga HD-floppies are all gathering dust in the attic, too bad coz I would love to see some of that early DPaint artwork again. Also makes me wonder just how much data that has been lost over the centuries, only stuff set in stone is still around.

  3. I’ve had a couple of DVDs rot on me. I called the company that produced it and they sent me another one free.

  4. Digital things do endure, but as time goes on they are obsoleted by the next standard. When Blueray or some other higher density media becomes accepted, all those old dvd’s with their washed out gradients and compressed images will be like the VHS tapes of the 80’s. The MPAA has nothing to fear because people will buy the same movies all over again in a newer, better format until all movies are stored at max resolution and lossless compression.

    LP Records -> Cassette Tape -> Compact Disc. I grew up in the 80’s and I’ve purchased at least 3 versions of the same recording for several releases. I’d agree with the RIAA and MPAA sentiments on copyrights and copy prevention if they allowed you to upgrade your recording for the cost of the media. But it’s a one way street with them.

  5. I have a friend who bought DRM’d WMA music from an online store 3 years ago. Last month, he tried to play it again, and it didn’t work because the store went out of business.

    Digital does last forever. The device its stored on doesn’t, but that’s okay as long as you can move it into different storage.

    DRM, especially server-reliant DRM, gives digital content a finite lifespan which is directly related to the limitations on it.

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  7. The fact that my copy of “Full On Mask Hysteria” by Altern 8 had started to rot (and woudn’t play on my CD PLayer) is what got me into music backups in the first place. I downloaded Exact Audio Copy for that purpose and proceeded to rip all of my CDs as a contingency.

    What the morons at the MPAA don’t realise is that all materials degrade over time, expecially the micro thin layer of aluminium that coats the top of a CD (where all the data is stored).

    I loved the “back in the days of magnetic media” quote too. That guy’s going to be in for a rude shock the day he’s infomed that the reason his hard disk has failed is because the actuator arms have scratched the magneticc coating off the platters.

  8. Reminds me of a story I heard (I can’t find it, but the source was fairly reliable) about a group that had found a piece of bark with some ancient writing on it in a cave. It was at least 1000 years old. They had written a grant requesting funds to make a “permanent digital copy” (or something like that).

    The point was made that if they wanted it to last another 1000 years they should copy it onto another piece of bark and leave it in a cave.

    Digital is forever…bah

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