By Kate Bulkley
Monday April 11, 2005
Kate Bulkley reports on an online initiative by broadcasters that will allow the public to experiment with archive material
The word archive has an old, dusty feel about it; there seems nothing very dynamic, nothing much to stimulate young people or spark anyone's creativity. But in the world of UK television and film, the impact of archive material is about to take on a new dimension.
Ashley Highfield, director of BBC new media and technology
The BBC, Channel 4, the British Film Institute (BFI) and the Open University have joined together to create the creative archive licence, which launches later this week. The new licence grew out of the BBC's online archive project, first announced by the corporation's former director general Greg Dyke in 2003 as a visionary plan to make thousands of hours of BBC content available to the UK public on the internet for non-commercial use.
The new initiative is meant to create a legitimate way for people to get free access to the archive material of the BBC as well as material from Channel 4, the BFI and the Open University but within certain prescriptions. "This isn't just the BBC looking to do something for us but actually a framework for many organisations in the UK," says Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of new media and technology. "We have started with a group that has a clear interest in this, but this does not preclude others from coming on board."
The new licensing scheme, which is based on a flexible copyright scheme from the US called the creative commons (www.creativecommons.org) is meant to be about more than just downloading old programmes from back catalogues. The idea is to give the public access to footage from the different archives so they can use it to create new things, either to pep up a school project or to create a home movie or make their own music video
"We are focusing less on the archive aspect and more on how to enable audiences, especially younger audiences, to whom we think we have a very valuable connection, to develop their creative skills," says Heather Rabbatts, head of education at Channel 4 and its representative with the creative archive licence group.
Channel 4 will actually make very little of its own broadcast content available under the scheme - at least initially - because as a commissioner of content rather than a producer, it does not own the rights. Instead, the channel plans to use the licence to build on its PixnMix music video project. "For us this is more about digital creative collaboration," says Adam Gee, commissioning editor of interactive for Channel 4's education unit. "This isn't about making wildlife films available, it's about getting the stuff people create back into the online repository so it can be shared around."
The BBC has plans to make some of its factual and learning content available, but exactly how much will be determined during an 18-month trial that begins on Wednesday with the launch of the new licence and website (http://creativearchive.bbc.co.uk - accessible from Wednesday).
"It's true that antelopes don't have agents and so it makes sense to start with factual programmes," says Highfield. "But the intention of the pilot is to look at other areas as well, some audio content from BBC radio, local history, science and, of course, factual and learning. We will trial different packets of content, different genres, clips and full programmes as well, and see what audiences do with it. Will they just download it, or will they edit it up?"
The BBC plans to submit the new scheme to a public value test after the pilot concludes next year.
Highfield is quick to point out that the creative archive licence is separate but complimentary to the BBC's interactive media player (IMP). The BBC is already using IMP to allow the download of some of its radio programmes, and there are plans to begin using it for some BBC TV programmes later in the year. "IMP is about making programmes available one week after transmission with secure digital rights management that limits usage, whereas the creative archive licence is for archive material and for stuff that you can keep in perpetuity," says Highfield.
Rights issues mean that the BFI's use of the creative archive licence will cover mostly old newsreel footage, early literary adaptations of Shakespeare, and out of copyright silent comedies such as the 1914 short Daisy Doodad Dial, which features a woman in a face-pulling contest.
Meanwhile, the Open University, which has been working with the BBC since 1971 making programmes such as Rough Science and What the Ancients Did for Us, plans to offer five hours of video under the new licensing scheme, including a volcanic eruption and footage of several different chemistry experiments that are no longer allowed to be performed in schools because of safety concerns.
The project clearly targets the more computer-savvy, but with broadband already in one in three UK homes and growing rapidly, now is the time to figure out how to adapt to this new distribution platform, says Highfield.
Given the global nature of the internet, limiting usage to UK residents will be difficult to control. "If we had started at the policing end we'd never have gotten anywhere with this," says Highfield. "Where you've got to start from is, how do we make more content available? I believe this can be a win-win. UK licence-fee payers get more access to our content, and having it out there also stimulates various commercial sales markets. I don't believe one has to detrimentally affect the other."