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Public Broadcasters Opt for CC

Michelle Thorne, January 22nd, 2008

Public broadcasters often ask themselves: how to better enable tax payers to access the works that they have paid for? This was the question that the BBC, the public broadcaster for the United Kingdom, addressed in 2004 during the debate over its charter renewal. The result of their deliberations was a yearlong pilot, the Creative Archive Licensing Group project, launched in September 2005.

The objective of the Creative Archive was to make BBC material available online to UK citizens. The content was released under a Creative Archive Licence, a license similar in some respects to the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commerical ShareAlike License, but more restrictive in that it allowed only non-profit educational & personal use, forbade promotional or campaign use, and limited these rights to within the UK.

During the pilot period, the Creative Archive received much praise. At its conclusion in September 2006, the BBC had released nearly 500 clips, full programs, audio tracks, and images. As the recent director of the Creative Archive Paul Gerhardt noted in an interview, viewers respected the licenses, and during the trial period, only two minor licensing breaches had been reported. However, a hurdle for the initiative was the fact that the Creative Archive could only license simple rights material from the BBC, which meant that no third-party programming could be included in the Archive.

Still, as Herkko Hietanen points out in Community Created Content, “The [Creative Archive] was in line with BBC’s goal ‘ to turn the BBC into an open cultural and creative resource for the nation’.” The Creative Archive was indeed a significant step for public interest and one of the BBC’s most applauded initiatives. And so, although the Creative Archive is not longer in active use, the philosophy of open licensing has continued to grow within the BBC.

Today several departments in the BBC publish content under Creative Commons licenses: album reviews (for example) and a partnership with MusicBrainz, a community music metadatabase that uses CC licenses. Furthermore, under other licensing conditions, the BBC has opened up its website to developers at backstage.bbc.co.uk. It also offers television and radio programs to stream or download through its iPlayer, although the player’s format has been the source of some criticism.

The BBC’s dedication to public access has helped inspire several other open projects for European public broadcasters. In November 2007 the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), a public radio and television broadcaster in Germany’s national broadcasting consortium ARD, announced that they will use CC licenses for some of their programs. The six-month pilot has so far generated positive coverage, and it is hoped that its services will be continued.

Also, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation features CC-licensed images and content on its website, and it was the first broadcaster to purchase and air the CC-licensed documentary, Good Copy Bad Copy. In the Netherlands, the public broadcasting network VPRO has implemented CC licenses for its 3voor12 Plundert Musea project, which makes available samples from rare musical instruments, and furthermore the Dutch broadcaster also promotes CC music on its radio show Wissel. Also of note is Images for the Future, a joint project funded by the Dutch government to digitize nearly 3 million photos, 140,000 hours of audio, and 150,000 hours of video & film, which is another great example of efforts to preserve the commons through online public access to cultural resources.

However, despite many positive strides, creators working for public broadcasters still often find themselves at odds with their institutions’ more traditional copyright policies. In-house legal departments can be reluctant to embrace user-generated content, remixes, downloads, and third-party material, and at times, they may endorse restrictive DRM while resisting new and open media formats. As more and more publicly-funded content goes online, it is important enable and empower users, rather than leaving enriching material to digitally decay.

If readers have any additional examples of CC license usage in public broadcasting, we invite you to include them on our Content Directories wiki.

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