Leonardo da Vinci, Profile of a Young Fiancee
An event hosted by Yale University, the annual meeting for the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), has got me thinking about an unusual word and how it relates to Digital Asset Management. The word is provenance. Provenance refers to the chronology, ownership, creation, production or discovery of an object or artifact tracing its whole history. Provenance is a very important concept for art and antiques and also a key principle of archives. In the digital world provenance becomes extremely complex.
Digital media is often many pieces sourced from anywhere and everywhere. Unlike a painting or an antique object the very nature of digital media allows the combining and mash-up of many different digital pieces – music, graphics, images, copy, etc. – into a new work, a new digital asset. That new digital asset can then be used as part of other new digital assets and on and on.
A project I worked on at a previous job wanted to be able to track the rights and ownership – the provenance – of all the components in a digital media creation. Think about tracking all the different sources for the many components in a creative exercise that is produced and published, the music, graphics, images, video and copy all coming together for that creative work, designed to move, influence or inform others. Maybe it was all made from scratch. Maybe music and photo rights were purchased to use in the production. But how do we know for sure?
In a world with millions of camera phones, surveillance cameras and even spy planes we can get video, images and audio of nearly anything. We can instantly publish to the web or social sites. Once published it is difficult to track and impossible to pull back or cancel. In a hundred years, archivists will be sifting through all these digital artifacts identifying what is important, what is real and somehow trying to determine who, where and how it came to be
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