The Handle System

Various authors, Oct 22, 2004
Commentary by Stephen Downes

A comment in my discussion area yesterday noted that, for the Koper link, "they actually use the Handle system and state explicitly to point instead to" (or hdl:1820/238, though most browsers don't support that notation). The idea of the handle system is that, instead of pointing directly to a link, you point to a handle proxy server, which will redirect you to the link. This is exactly how Persistent Url (or Purl) works, except without the special handle syntax. The benefit is that if the URL for the resource changes, links using Handle still work (assuming that someone remembers to update the Handle proxy server). On the other hand, as the Handle documentation states, the system is perfect for managing "intellectual property" - that is, it is perfect for enforcing access restrictions at the network level, rather than at the server or resource level. Maybe so - but this was the point of my discussion with Dan Rehak in Utah over CORDRA, which also uses the Handle system. Applying digital rights at the network level, in addition to imposing a substantial overhead on everybody, runs the risk of fracturing the internet into a series of private networks. Will CORDRA or Handle do that? I don't know. I have no doubt that some people would like it to, though, and so urge caution regarding the implementation of Handle. The Handle system is used now by Digital Object Identifier (DOI), Defense Virtual Library, and DSpace, among others.
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