After the invention of the internet, the main concern of creatives and producers was the protection against the piracy of their products, whether in media or intellectual property. But what about all of the items produced prior to 1923? If it’s not published by the rights’ owner anymore, is your only option piracy? As it turns out, not necessarily.
Project Gutenberg: A true tech literacy
Organizations like Project Gutenberg are committed to providing a Kindle’s worth of free literature, ranging from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and everything in between. The copyright no longer exists in the United States, so rather than allowing the books to languish on library and bookstore shelves, Project Gutenberg digitized over 39,000 titles, which are available for free on Kindle, iBooks, and other formats for digital reading.
Thanks to scrupulous proofreading, the ebooks share high quality with their printed books, but are far more readily available; they’re only a download away. Since Project Gutenberg is a non-profit, it asks for donations but provides the books for free.
For publishers, the quality of content has always been the highest concern, but it’s difficult to engage such a concern without the availability of said content. Project Gutenberg is a testament to the writing that has gone before. Untold classics no longer need to be reduced to Cliff’s Notes and Wikipedia entries. They are available to be experienced in whole, as the authors truly intended.
The Alan Lomax Collection: Music grandaddy thought was hoppin’
What if you’re more interested in pleasing to your aural appetite with music than you are in books? Well, The Alan Lomax Collection, which was the life’s work of a meticulous archivist, is now available on the internet.
While he collected music and dance from the rural South beginning in the 1930s, Lomax hoped that one day his archive would be available for everyone to hear and enjoy. He painstakingly assembled the Library of Congress’ Archive of American Folk Song collection in hopes that it would breach the lack of African American music in popular culture and memory, and that these artists would finally receive recognition for their work.
As a visionary, Lomax saw far into the future with his Global Jukebox, a way for him to preserve the oral, musical, and dance history of the poor and minority populations. He sought to preserve culture as a way to understand humanity, and in doing so, created a wealth of resources that are only now available to the average listener. He founded the Association for Cultural Equity to preserve the heritage of American music, dance, and speech. Lomax scoured the Caribbean, American South, and Europe to obtain ethnographic photos and videos, and meticulously collected the recordings into a single collection — the work of a lifetime.
This archive was a way for blues and folk artists without record deals to be remembered for their contributions to the music of future generations. While compact discs could try to encompass all of the available material, having this collection as an online archive allows many more people to research the history of modern music. Thanks to the sharing culture of the internet, instead of selling or leasing recordings and photos to museums and libraries, the archive has its own YouTube channel you can stream and MP3s you can download.
Aside from the “preservation of history” aspect of Project Gutenberg and the Alan Lomax Collection, these archives provide direct links to the past. Anyone who’s witnessed the YouTube video of the elderly, non-responsive gentleman regaining memories upon hearing music from his era knows the power that culture has to maintain identity. This isn’t just about living in the past; this is about the link that joins our media-loving generation with what came before. In the past, we were limited by the accessibility of relics of a bygone era. Now, we are witnesses to the legacy of our predecessors.