Earthquakes and Digital Archiving in New Zealand

Posted on: March 17, 2015 by

As reported in my last post, on 4 September 2010 an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude struck the Canterbury region of New Zealand. It was followed by thousands of aftershocks, including one of 6.3 magnitude on 22 February 2011 which caused widespread destruction and 185 deaths.

Since the earthquakes, the people and institutions of Canterbury have been recording their experiences. One of the most innovative forums is UC CEISMIC, which is a public digital archive dedicated to earthquake material. Heritage New Zealand was one of the first contributors to UC CEISMIC. The collection includes submissions to the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission, 3000 photos of earthquake damaged buildings, 200 reports on pre-1900 quake-affected archaeological sites, and 100 register records of damaged or demolished listed historic places.  Because the concept of an open-access digital archive is fairly new, there have been a number of legal issues to contend with.

Many of Heritage New Zealand’s archaeological reports include external sources such as maps or photos. Often this information is copyright protected or has specific requirements around display. For example, Google Maps can only be used in public documents as long as no visual components are changed and Google Street View images may not be reproduced. Heritage New Zealand’s register records included building owners’ names and personal information. These details needed to be removed for privacy reasons before records could be uploaded onto CEISMIC.

There have also been some issues with Heritage New Zealand’s copyright of the material. Of course copyright comes into existence once a work is put into material form and in New Zealand it is governed by the Copyright Act 1994. A local heritage devotee created a website on lost heritage buildings in Christchurch and downloaded register records from CEISMIC on to the site. As copyright owner, Heritage New Zealand retain the exclusive right to copy and publish its material and did not want any individual outside the organisation to implicitly claim ownership or control of the material. Staff contacted this person and asked them to link to the Register records on CEISMIC instead.

Heritage New Zealand Archaeologist Amy McStay points out the other complex issues around publishing archaeological reports. “We have still needed to assess risks and screen the reports for legally (site damage and copyright), commercially or culturally sensitive information. As with all technical information, archaeological reports can sometimes be misinterpreted by the public and so we always recommend people speak with Heritage New Zealand or their archaeologist to understand what it means if they have an archaeological site on their property.”

Making quake material publically available is a great opportunity to equip historians and building owners with resources for future research and site management, but Heritage New Zealand has had to put significant resources into protecting and editing content.

Rosemary Baird is the Canterbury Area Co-ordinator at Heritage New Zealand.