The BBC’s job isn’t to make money out of ingenious intellectual property arrangements, or barging its way to take a share of a DRM-restricted viewing pot. Despite how it looks sometimes, the BBC isn’t just another Fox or Warner Bros. The BBC’s job – or part of it – is to distribute knowledge. Or, in the terms of its founding father, Lord Reith, to “inform, educate and entertain”.
And there’s a really strong argument that says that once a program is made and paid for by the BBC, its primary obligation is not to obtain revenue from that creation, but work as hard as possible to make sure that everyone has access to it. The license payers gave their money to the BBC to create David Attenbourough’s Life On Earth, or Michael Palin’s Train Journeys, or Monty Python, with the express intention that they shouldn’t have to pay for it ever again. Like universities, these works were created for the public good, and should be freely given to the world.
While the commercial companies fret over the dangers of P2P and zero-cost replication, the BBC has realised that this is its greatest opportunity. Not to beat commercial media concerns, but to finally stop mimicking them.
There are some big questions. Sorting out the contractual issues with anything but completely internally produced content will be difficult. There are artist’s residuals (payments made to actors for repeat showings of their work), external commercial content, and international rights to consider.
It’s not clear what kind of licence the BBC will settle on for its archive. Will you be permitted to redistribute the material on file-sharing networks? Will you be able to do your own remixes of Dr. Who? Show BBC programs at your not-for-profit society? Make parodies of the news using real news footage? The project is a real legal adventure.
I can’t wait for this to become a reality. This is the sort of thing that the Internet – as envisioned by science fiction – was meant for. And the BBC deserves nothing less than the undying gratitude of the world for taking this first step.
Update October 3: We should have known this was too good to be true. From Paidcontent.org:
At a panel at the “Content Matters” conference last Friday in London, Angel Gambino, controller of biz dev and broadband at BBC, made some clarifications. Firstly, right now the process is going through a jumble of lawyers, mainly due to copyright issues. It is likely to be in that stage for some time. Secondly, BBC will not open up all of its archives online…it says it will only open up content which is deemed to be otherwise unprofitable or non-commercial. Now who’s to decide that? Well presumably, another battery of lawyers and supposed independent firms like KPMG, for sure. For all you know, it might end up just being educational programs.
On another front, DRM issues will be a big hurdle…I asked Gambino about whether users outside of UK will be able to access Creative Archives, and she said they won’t. The DRM issues are still being worked out, as are others. Another line of thinking is that since these programs are not commercially exploitable anyway, so it won’t matter if users outside UK can access it. Or they can do some IP targeting, where users outside UK get a low bandwidth version, or have to pay for it, or won’t be able to access it at all.