Archival BFD: Happy Birthday Case

If you haven’t heard, a judge in the 9th Circuit has ruled that Happy Birthday, or at least the words were not transferred to the licensing company, Warner/Chappell and that the authorship of the lyrics to Happy Birthday is in question. This is a BFD in regards to copy right and could signal a shift in how copyright claims for early works are handled or it could just mean that the words for Happy Birthday will be on every major TV show in a few months. Several outlets are reporting that the lyrics are now in the public domain, but that’s not exactly what was in the judge’s opinion. Judge King suggest in his opinion that the Hill sisters who authored the original “Good Morning” to you song that Happy Birthday was based off up never asserted their copyright to the lyrics only a piano arrangement. I admit to splitting hairs here, but it’s good to be cautious with copyright. I’m also still searching for the opinion and will write a new post once I find it. I should mention this case is far from over, and this is just a district judge’s ruling. It’ll have a good year a more to work its way through the federal judicial system.

Here’s a few write ups on the case:

Case Studies on Arrangement and Description (Fall 2015)

Case Study 1:  Prioritize Louise

You are working at Institution X, and three collections arrived today. The donors all are very interested in the process of archiving their materials and want to see their collections “done” as soon as possible. The archive received the following.

  • The Merman family papers, which consist three shoe boxes of memorabilia, one labeled Louise the others unlabeled, a box mostly of correspondence, and another box with no discernible arrangement.
  • The Hudsucker Corporate archives which comprises 200 linear feet broken down into well organized series such as legal, sales, R&D, stock proxies, etc.
  • Materials from the law office of Bunker, Maude, and Jefferson. This collection hasn’t been appraised fully so it’s unknown if there is a logical series arrangement or an original order that is usable.


  • How would you go about prioritizing arrangement and description activities for these collections?
  • What other information do you need to make these decisions?
  • How will you handle criticism for your priorities for researchers, donors, and admin?

Case Study 2: Someone will need Everything

Archive Z at Zeta University has two well arrangement, fairly minimally processed, but large (200 plus linear feet)record groups of materials from the Office of the President and the Office of Student Affairs. This includes a large amount of digital files from the Office Student Affairs, mostly photos from student events over the last 20 years. These images are arranged by date, but no other information is provided. The date ranges in the paper materials very through out both of these record groups. The President files contain information going back to the institutions founding. The Office of Student Affairs has a bulk date of 1950 – 1985. The University is under going it’s 150th anniversary during this academic year, and beyond basic administrative data there is no description for these collections. You are a staff of one, with a Graduate Assistant(20 hrs/w), 2 Student works (10 hrs/w) and several volunteers who are alumni.


  • How would set priorities for describing these collections?
  • How would you prepare your available staff and volunteers to proceed in the description process, and what would your role as archivist be?
  • How are you going to handle access issues during your description process?

Managing Billions Lines of Code – Archivist Take Note

Google developers logoA piece posted today at Wired by Cade Metz discusses the code repository used by Google to manage the code for all their services, app’s etc. Metz is discussing comments by Google’s Rachel Potvin made at a Silcon Valley engineering conference. According to Potvin and discussed at length by Metz, Google keeps all of of its code for it’s services in one central repository accessible by its 25,000 engineers. The amount of code is staggering. Roughly two billion lines of it is managed, tracked and made accessible through Google’s home-grown repository system known as Piper.

For some archivist, this information is neat and ultimately not relevant to what we do. I insist that in the post-custodial world we live in, examining how massive large-scale software is develop is something to take note of. The software itself may not be considered a record, though that’s up for debate, the interactions between developers, bot, and testers generate records many of which are tracked by version control software like Piper. The question we have to ask ourselves is what should we do with these records, how do we capture them, how does a scenario like a large software code repository translate to other instances where records can be manipulated by large groups of users? I can’t answer any of these, but it’s time to pay attention.



Case Studies on Appraisal/Acquisition (Fall 2015)

Case Study 1: Not Mardi Gras

You are conducting an initial review of 1 TB images created by  your university photographer. You don’t have time to review every image, but you decide to examine a few folders to get a feel for the image collection scope and contents. During your random review you discover two things.

  • Some images show young women and men in odd poses in gym like attire. Something seems odd about these images as they don’t seem to be university related images. There are many of these images.
  • During the review of images of a music festival, you discover and image of a young women exposing herself to the camera.
  • What kind of appraisal decisions do you need to make regarding these images? How do these images impact your acquisition of these images.

Case Study 2: They’ve Been here for years

During an appraisal visit to a law office to examine a small series of document and furniture related to Senator Nelson Beauregard Bullington III, aka the Colonel, the potential donor mentions that the early 20th century law books in their possession belonged to the Colonel but also Famous State Supreme Court Justice Buford Winston Samuelson, Jr. due to them partners for a time and sharing the same office space. Your institution has a small collection of materials and an exhibit dedicated to Bullington, but has only nothing related to Samuelson.

  • Do you take the law books?
  • How do you feel taking a small series of papers and a furniture?