Permanent Legacy Foundation

The Permanent Legacy Foundation is a US nonprofit with an interesting approach to digital preservation based on a micro-endowment business model. Its work can be summed up as the ‘democratization of permanence’, aiming to build a trusted, sustainable platform where individuals and organisations can take control of the long-term preservation of their digital assets.

 

The website permanent.org was launched in 2018 and is well worth exploring for more information about the Foundation’s mission and its drive to create ‘a new paradigm for historical preservation’. Here the focus is more on the business model and particularly the endowment fund.

The aim of the service is to allow anyone to create a digital archive that will be proactively managed for them, according to best archival practice. It thus goes well beyond simple cloud storage of the type widely available elsewhere on a monthly or annual subscription model, although it does make use of several existing commercial services to offer ‘multi-cloud’ storage, with three copies of stored assets, each kept with a different provider.

The data integrity of these multiple copies is checked regularly and if one copy becomes corrupted, another is used to repair it. Proprietry or obsolete formats are converted into current, open ones as needed. And while users can keep their assets completely private, there is also an option to publish them to the public servers of the Internet Archive.

The main target audience for the service is individuals who want to create a permanent digital legacy, either for their families or as a contribution to community history. Trust is a key part of the offer: for example, the homepage carries the promise: ‘We will never mine your data, claim your copyright or invade your privacy. A new paradigm for secure cloud storage is here. Permanent.org is more than just another place to save your files. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity making it possible for all people to securely preserve their digital legacy.’ Moreover, the Foundation is working towards certification as a trusted digital repository as defined by the international standard ISO 16363:2012.

The Foundation has an endowment-based model that was influenced by the work of David Rosenthal. In short, the model estimates the future annual costs of storing a of digital archive of a given size, and also estimates the amount of money that would be needed to generate enough annual interest to meet those costs. The current calculation is around $10 per GB (gigabyte) of storage.  Users are charged a one-off fee depending on the size of the archive they wish to upload, and the Foundation adds this lump sum to its endowment investments. The annual interest generated covers the cost of the multi-cloud storage negotiated with commercial providers, and also the Foundation’s operating expenses, such as data migration, integrity checking and format conversion. Some is also used to fund free storage for other nonprofit organisations working on community history projects, a programme known as Byte-for-Byte.

Key takeaway

A service along similar lines, or perhaps this one, accredited to ISO 16363:2012, could provide a trusted digital repository for assets resulting from museum digitisation projects. A sustainable business model might involve grant-funded digitisation projects being required to store the resulting assets in such a repository and to allocate part of the grant towards the micro-endowment needed for long-term preservation.

Acknowledgement

Collections Trust would like to thank Robert Friedman, Executive Director of the Permanent Legacy Foundation, for being interviewed for our Get it together project and for providing follow-up information.

Date created: December 2020