On a business trip to New York in March 1968, Simpson toured each of the three [television] networks. At each stop, he asked to see a broadcast from the previous month. They all told him that they weren’t available – they only saved their broadcasts for about two weeks because it was too expensive to preserve them.
Like so many archives, the Vanderbilt Television News Archive is working against time, and against long odds, to save history that would otherwise disappear. This is why copyright law, primarily through the fair use doctrine, recognizes a special place for libraries and archives. The “normal” functioning of the market for copyright-protected goods, like television broadcasts, systematically under-invests in preservation. There has to be a zone of freedom from copyright’s restrictions for institutions who have historical preservation and research as part of their core mission. Otherwise, we are doomed to lose our history to the exigencies of present-day business models.