Newly Recovered Ground Zero Photos Show Why You Should Back Up your CD-Recordable Disks Now: Photo CDs Don’t Last Forever

An article by Sean Hollister in The Verge web site at describes a problem that every genealogist would like to avoid. In fact, it is easily avoidable if you are already aware of the problem and if you have already taken steps to side-step this technical issue.

When comedian and activist Jon Stewart gave an impassioned speech before Congress to seek ongoing aid for 9/11 first responders, it inspired Internet Archive software curator and digital preservationist Jason Scott to share something timely with the world as well: a newly discovered cache of photos from one of the workers who toiled away at Ground Zero, and who’d saved thousands of those photos on writeable CD-ROM disks.

But Scott says he wasn’t actually able to preserve all of those photos, because of the way they were stored. Many of the images stored on writeable CD disks were unreadable! Indeed, CD-recordable disks made on personal computers do not last forever. In this case, they didn’t even last 8 years!

I suspect you you would not want the same thing to happen to your valuable family photographs. And, yes, the problem is easily avoidable as long as you don’t procrastinate.

I did write a Plus Edition article a few weeks ago about preserving photos, music, and other information recorded on writeable CDs: (+) Is Your CD-ROM Data Disappearing? If you would like to read that article, you may do so at (a Plus Edition user name and password is required) or you may purchase this one article, without subscribing, for $2.00 US. You may purchase the article at


Steven Fleckenstein June 18, 2019 at 9:20 pm

All I can say is I have a file cabinet drawer full of burned CDR and DVD-/+ R discs going back to the year 2000 and they are readable. I suspect it has alot to do with the quality of the blanks, the recording process and storage conditions.


    All that may be true, but be aware that any digital file will be readable…. until it’s not. Unlike analog recordings, they tend to not give a warning of impending problems. The error correction mechanisms are rudimentary and when bit errors become too severe, the file will be unreadable. 20 year old CD-Rs are an anomaly…. most of the ones I recorded lasted only a few years at best.


    Steven Fleckenstein June 19, 2019 at 9:52 am

    I just used Exact Audio Copy to rip an Audio CD-R I created in 2001 with 100 percent accuracy reported on most songs, a few were 99.9 percent accurate. I then used an old copy of Blindwrite 7 to create an ISO of a DVD+R full of shareware files burned in 2004, Blindwrite had no problems creating the ISO. I also mounted the ISO and looked at a few sample files. Yes, burned optical disks can fail but they don’t always fail. Quality of the original media and drive, burn speeds, and storage conditions play a big role in long term results. FWIW, I do backup my DVD/CD collection to external hard drives.

    09:43:31.468 Info Media topology isn’t required
    09:43:31.468 Info Extraction successful in 05:03
    09:38:28.079 Info Free Space on destination path 740.06 Gb.
    09:38:28.079 Info Reading DVD+R Disc [ARCHIVE1] – Image Size 4.36 Gb.
    09:38:28.079 Info Read Data (DVD) for track 1 and following
    09:38:28.037 Info Output format for image file is set to ISO
    09:38:28.035 Info Reading device : 1:0:0 – ASUS DRW-24B1ST c 1.05 [E] (Scsi)
    09:38:28.034 Info Extraction started
    09:37:58.912 Info Loaded read profile ISO image
    09:36:52.262 Info EZ-Play driver active. Version 8
    09:36:52.234 Info Using Advanced SPTI interface
    09:36:51.175 Info Total Physical Memory : 4095 Mb.
    Available Physical Memory : 2191 Mb.
    Memory Load : 46%
    Total Virtual Memory : 2047 Mb.
    Available Virtual Memory : 1836 Mb.
    Available extended Virtual Memory : 0 Mb.
    Total Memory : 8191 Mb.
    Available Memory : 5661 Mb.
    09:36:51.175 Info Processor Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Quad CPU Q9650 @ 3.00GHz with 4 core(s) CPU
    Pipeline(s): 4 – parallelize up to 4
    Supported instruction set: MMX,sse,sse2,sse3,ssse3 (slow),sse41
    09:36:51.160 Info OS : Windows 8 (64 bits), Build 9200, service pack 0.0
    file name : C:\Program Files (x86)\VSO\BlindWrite\7\BW.exe
    file version :
    User language : English (United States)
    System language : English (United States)
    09:36:51.142 ———— ********************************BW.exe:1552 Log session start 2019-06-19 at 09:36:51.088********************************


Mark Middleton Sr June 19, 2019 at 12:01 pm

ANY one storage method is vulnerable to problems. The real solution is multiple back ups of the same files and at least 1 backup not physically in the same location.


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