January 25, 2022

New Report From ARL: “The Copyright Permissions Culture in Software Preservation and Its Implications for the Cultural Record”

The following report from the Association of Research Libraries was written by:

  • Patricia Aufderheide, American University School of Communication
  • Brandon Butler,  University of Virginia Library
  • Krista Cox, Association of Research Libraries
  • Peter Jaszi, Emeritus Professor at American University Law School

From an ARL Publication Announcement:

2018-02-09_09-21-40A report released today, The Copyright Permissions Culture in Software Preservation and Its Implications for the Cultural Record, finds that individuals and institutions need clear guidance on the legality of archiving legacy software to ensure continued access to digital files of all kinds and to illuminate the history of technology.

The first product of an Association of Research Libraries (ARL) project funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the report is based on extensive research and interviews with software preservation experts and other stakeholders. This research will inform a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Software Preservation to be published in fall 2018, and to be supported by webinars, workshops, online discussions, and educational materials. The Code will advance the mission of memory institutions to safeguard the digital record and promote research that engages it.

Libraries, archives, and museums hold thousands of software titles that are no longer in commercial distribution, but institutions lack explicit authorization to preserve these titles or make them available. Memory institutions also hold a wealth of electronic files (texts, images, data, and more) that are inaccessible without this legacy software. The report released today documents high levels of concern among professionals worried that while seeking permission to archive software is time-consuming and usually fruitless, preserving and providing access to software without express authorization is risky. Meanwhile, digital materials languish, and the prospects for their effective preservation dim.


Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Software Preservation will help this community overcome legal uncertainty by documenting a consensus view of how fair use—the legal doctrine that allows many value-added uses of copyrighted materials—applies to core, recurring situations in software preservation. Fair use has become a powerful tool for cultural memory institutions and their users, allowing them to realize the potential of stored knowledge with due respect for the interests of copyright holders. (See ARL’s 2012 Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries.) Fair use holds the same potential where software preservation in concerned.

Direct to Full Text Report (36 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.