Don't burn your favourite picture memories, movies and music to CD and expect it to last forever. It would be lucky to last five years, say the experts. The key to long-term data security is to burn - and burn often.
Kurt Gerecke, a storage expert and physicist from IBM this week warned that even best quality burnt CDs have a maximum life expectancy of five years, and cheaper ones from your local "two dollar shop" would be lucky to make two years.
National product manager for Memorex, Omar Sandoval, agrees with Gerecke: "You'd be lucky to even play music from a burnt CD for two years if you kept the CD in the car, he said.
"When you are reformatting and re-recording on CD-RWs with a crystallised liquid or chemical, they eventually have to fall apart. A crystal can only be reformatted so many times before the compounds break down," he said.
Consumers need to be aware that the dye and the crystals used in both CD-Rs and CD-RWs are susceptible to heat, humidity and scratching, Sandoval warned. He also advised that CD-Rs were much better to record music on than CD-RWs.
Sandoval does not believe that tape is the answer either.
"The same sorts of concerns apply for video cassette and audio tape as well. Tape is highly susceptible to fungus and a lot of people don't know that. So if the tape is stored in a dark place where there is even just a tiny bit of moisture, it can attract fungus and there goes the cobalt material of the tape, and the information has degenerated," he said.
Sandoval said that many vendors stopped using "life span" as a selling point years ago.
"You used to see CD-R packaging saying "100 year life expectancy". But they stopped doing that because people started thinking - 'well great, if it has 100 year life expectancy I can throw it on the dash of my car and it should be fine'," he said. "Within two or three months the chemicals would dry up, the reflective shield would go and the disc would be useless."
Sandoval warned that any warranty claim would only cover replacement media, not your precious data.
"A lot of manufacturers offer a conditional or limited warranty on craftsmanship and quality. Nothing else. If the disc fails, it's replaced, but no one will warrant anything that's burnt to the disk," he said.
A spokesperson from the office of Fair Trading said that the short life span of burnt CDs would only be a fair trading concern if the vendor misled the public into thinking that the life span would be longer.
Gerard Brody, a Solicitor from the Consumer Law Centre believes the average consumer is not aware that the life span of burned CDs is only between two and five years.
"Although consumers may be aware that burned CDs are unlikely to last forever (like videos, film etc), the general expectation would be for data to last more than 5 years. If Kurt Gerecke from IBM is correct, then manufacturers and retailers of CD-Rs and CD-RWs should make more effort to inform consumers of the likely lifespan of the product," he said.
"If manufacturers and/or retailers of CD-Rs and CD-RWs are marketing their products as being for long-life storage of data, and they only last between two to five years, then there is also an argument that they are breaching fair trading legislation. This is because the product purchased will not be fit for the purpose for which it was intended and will be a breach of a condition implied into consumer contracts by fair trading legislation."