Legal and Financial Issues

The classification scheme of UbuWeb is one of its primary distinguishing characteristics from digital collections, but its freedom from the institutional support (and corresponding limitations) of these collections is an equally significant issue for the site’s preservation.

“UbuWeb is free,” the homepage declares, and the multiple meanings of this statement are manifest. All of Ubuweb’s server space and bandwidth costs are donated by similarly-minded organizations such as the radio station WFMU 91.1fm, The Electronic Poetry Center, The Center for Literary Computing, and PennSound (the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Programs in Creative Writing). While buoyed by allied organizations and individuals, these entities exercise no curatorial influence. No artists or contributors are paid, and no advertising is involved.

In return, the site aims to provide freedom of information: “UbuWeb posts much of its content without permission; we rip out-of-print LPs into sound files; we scan as many old books as we can get our hands on; we post essays as fast as we can OCR them.” UbuWeb has effectively called capitalism’s bluff and placed its bet on a gift economy.

On the one hand, it’s true that much of the media content on UbuWeb is either out-of-print, of undeterminable origins, or donated by its creators. Also, the site does make efforts to avoid attracting the ire of the expelled Money Changers: audio/video is sometimes streamed (a more defensible method with respect to copyright), and a robots.txt file protects from the irrational demands of would-be wildcatters (it’s important to note that this file more likely excludes UbuWeb from governmental archiving efforts, thus rendering private/rogue efforts even more important). Nevertheless, much of UbuWeb exists in a legal grey area (to put it politely).

This freedom is perhaps a boon to users, but a liability for UbuWeb’s potential archivists in that they are professionally charged to ensure the provenance of materials and respect federal law and intellectual property rights (1, 2). Furthermore, longterm digital preservation poses longterm costs.