A long-running scandal finally ended on Friday with the signing into law of new legislation that allows the British Library and other legal deposit libraries to archive around 5 million websites in the .uk domain. British content on other domains, such as .com and .org, will be added later.
While the legislation is to be applauded, it’s two decades too late to capture the early history of web development in the UK. Massive amounts of valuable data have presumably been lost forever, and there will always be a digital black hole in British history. The consolation is that the Internet Archive, founded by American digital activist Brewster Kahle in 1996, scooped up and preserved some of it in its Wayback Machine.
The British Library has been one of the UK’s copyright libraries since 1662, which means publishers have been legally obliged to give it free copy of everything they print. This has resulted in a priceless archive, albeit one that takes up 500 miles of shelf space.
It would have been logical to make the BL similarly responsible for storing copies of web-based publications as well. If it didn’t feel it had the legal right, or the money, the British government should speedily have provided both — via redwolf.newsvine.com