Seanad debates

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Digital Archiving

12:00 pm

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, who is unavailable this morning to take this Commencement matter.

Legal deposit legislation is an important instrument in national cultural policy. In Ireland, as in most countries, it is relied upon to ensure the published output of the nation is collected and preserved by one or more prescribed institutions in order that citizens and researchers, within the country and abroad, are guaranteed permanent access to the intellectual and cultural memory of the nation. Some countries have amended legal deposit legislation to incorporate the deposit of their published digital output, for example, websites and electronic publications. This is digital legal deposit, and it exists to various extents in the UK and some EU countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Section 29 of the Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Act 2019 introduced a provision for copyright libraries to request a publisher to deposit a copy of a digital publication first published in the State. This introduced digital legal deposit in Ireland. Further consideration is being afforded to a wider initiative that would capture the web, particularly the .ie domain. At present, the National Library of Ireland, NLI, collects a wide range of websites and stores them permanently. All the websites collected by it are collected with the consent of the owners.

Section 108 of the 2019 Act provided that the Government would bring forward a report on the feasibility of establishing a digital legal deposit scheme to serve as a web archive for the .ie domain contents and advise of the steps taken towards that goal. Within a year of publication, 50% of web resources are gone or are unrecognisable, but the work of the NLI means Government publications and online websites documenting most aspects of public life in the 21st century will not be lost to future researchers.

Since 2011, the NLI has been selectively archiving the web, moving towards the creation of an archive of Irish websites. There are several practical and administrative limitations to that process, but perhaps the greatest concern is the fact that it does not provide for a complete record of Irish-content websites. The library has a statutory mandate to collect for the benefit of the public. It can also meet the resource requirements to gather and preserve the information. Legislation could be introduced to give the library the right to conduct a full domain trawl of all .ie websites of Irish interest periodically. To capture a complete record of Irish websites, the domain trawl would include the collection of content behind paywalls. The intention would be that the NLI would make the content available on its premises, as with other resources. This is not a simple issue. However, the owners of websites whose content lies behind a paywall have rights as publishers in general and are important stakeholders in that context. The agreement of relevant publishers would be appropriate and desirable in respect of any legislation.

On progress, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media is working with the NLI on exploring the feasibility of expanding the library's capacity to establish a digital legal deposit scheme to serve as a web archive for the .ie domain. Work is ongoing in this regard. There are differing views on the introduction of a digital legal deposit, and it is important that consultation incorporate all those views. It is hoped to bring forward a report in the coming months.


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