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How can we ensure obsolete software can be legally used for digital preservation and access?

+4 votes
Old software that is no longer sold or regularly used for business purposes (obsolete software) is currently very difficult to legally acquire and use for preservation and access purposes.

Can this situation be changed?

How can we ensure that obsolete software can legally be used with emulation and virtualization tools, or with conserved hardware, to enable future users to access and interact with old digital content with maximum fidelity, integrity and authenticity?

Currently every library, archive or museum has to contact each software vendor separately in order to try to obtain the necessary software and licenses. That is a very time consuming process and not feasible for small institutions.  Furthermore, some vendors have gone out of business or the license owners are not identifiable, leading to legal ambiguity that has a risk associated with it that is often greater that many institutions are comfortable with.

What options for solving this problem might be available?
asked May 21, 2014 by euanc (3,910 points)

2 Answers

+2 votes

This seems like an approach that requires a national or international level collaborative organization. Having every LAM contact a vendor for legal copies is redundant. What would be better is having a single organization obtain the licenses or having that organization negotiate with vendors to provide an easy method for LAMs to obtain software.

In the first method, the collection National Software Reference Library at the National Institute of Standards and Technology would be a good starting point. As it stands, their collection is probably one of the largest, but it is used to match against programs on computers used in crimes, not to serve as a general resource for researchers. It would be great to use that collection to seed a general resource, but the licensing for use (the very hard part) would still have to be sorted out.

In the second method, organizations like Techsoup show that this group negotiation model is possible with commercial software.


answered Jun 3, 2014 by nkrabben (1,990 points)
edited Jul 23, 2014 by nkrabben
The NSRL currently can run a few operating systems and applications in virtual machines. We are not equipped to be a general resource for researchers who wish to interact with our collection, but one of our goals is to be a specialized resource for retrieval of content from legacy media or formats. At this point, we are watching how a few organizations are progressing with negotiations with vendors.
I edited my answer to make clear what the purpose and limitations of NSRL are.

Good to hear about the negotiations. I'd love to see that work published at some point in the future.
–1 vote

format migration wink

answered May 29, 2014 by richardlehane (1,000 points)