I was reading over some blogs this morning, and came across this entry from Wendy Seltzer’s blog:

Remember Dan Quayle’s attack on fictional character Murphy Brown? Well if you don’t, or want to refresh your recollection of the 1992 episode, you’ll have to rely on secondary sources, Jeff Ubois reports.

The link to the PDF file posted on Jeff Ubois’ site is very interesting indeed. You can view the full PDF file here. Here is just a very small excert from the first section:

“Television affects our lives from birth to death…Sadly, we have not yet sought to preserve this powerful medium in anything like a serious or systematic manner.” – James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress1

Television constitutes a vital part of our cultural and historical record, yet even the largest archives in the U.S. provide access to only a fraction of news and entertainment broadcasts. Preserving important cultural artifacts and making them broadly available is vital to education and culture. Yet students, scholars, educational software developers, documentary film makers, and others who need access to television broadcasts face enormous obstacles in finding footage and obtaining rights to it [Murphy (1997), Zeller (2004)].

If journalism is the first draft of history, much of it that is broadcast remains very difficult to access, especially compared to print media. As Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig writes in Free Culture, “Why is it that the part of our culture that is recorded in the newspapers remains perpetually accessible, while the part that is recorded on videotape is not? How is it that we have created a world where researchers trying to understand the effect of media on nineteenth-century America will have an easier time than researchers trying to understand the effect of media on twentieth-century America?” 2

A controversy between then-U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle and the fictional character Murph Brown from the television series of that name over ‘family values’ can serve to illustrate the problems facing researchers seeking access to historic footage. While this example is rather U.S centric, the subject is to many different disciplines, and the primary sources and follow-on broadcasts are distributed widely, under many different copyright regimes.

In the end, despite extensive efforts detailed here, the speech by Dan Quayle that initiated the controversy proved inaccessible for reasons of copyright, and the owner of the Murphy Brown episodes refused to provide them for educational use. The resulting gap between our expected ability to review public discourse and our ability to actually do so was surprising, and suggests that much public debate about access to the historical record, and the need to prevent off-air taping, is based on false assumptions.

[bold emphasis mine]

If you have ever read the book 1984, you might take a totally different view on what’s happening here.

In general, there seems to be an ongoing battle not only in regard to what may well turn out to be a red herring about not providing these historical records based on copyright issues — particularly since the DMCA was enacted in 1998 — but there appears to be a move to change people’s perception of history (personal history, poliitical history, corporate history, etc.) when it suits a candidate, cause, or organization. And I don’t mean to imply that it is being done exclusive by one side of the political aisle or the other. It seems to be rampant all around and, politics isn’t the only area where it rears it’s ugly head.

So I ask: Why would it be difficult for students, scholars, educational software developers, documentary film makers, and others who need access to obtain access to these videos? And as the old TechTV Series EyeDrops used to say, “Think about that.”

For whatever reason, It definitely seems that the DMCA is again being used in unintended ways resulting yet again in unintended consequences to the detriment of those wishing to learn from society’s past, or make sure people don’t forget what politicians, governments, companies, etc. have said in the past, and contrast that to what they are saying now.

Trying to change other’s view on what someone has said in the past by pretending it was never said, or altering what was said to suit the current need seems to happen quite a bit these days.

Puts me in mind of the Ministry of Truth in the book 1984 — rewriting history to suit their current thinking:

”Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,” repeated Winston obediently.

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