PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, 29 January 2005
The British BBC, one of the world’s major communications networks, recently decided to digitalise its gigantic archive. A campaign was launched on the internet and within the company for this format to be freely available to the public, and for its use to be authorised. Christian Ahlert, a professor from the Oxford Internet Institute, was one of the supporters of this cause. He managed to convince the company’s management and the documentalists to use Creative Commons licensing, which has different levels of free use.
He recognises that it was a lengthy and difficult process, but that it can bring about change in broadcasting production formats. Owing to legal problems, only documentaries will be digitalised and licensed under Creative Commons in the meantime.
Ahlert participated in a roundtable on “the digital revolution” on the morning of this Saturday the 29th, and talked to Rets after the event.
Rets – You confirmed that the BBC is digitalising part of its archives. Will all the content be licensed under Creative Commons?
Christian Ahlert – No, for legal reasons, the BBC does not have rights over all that it produces. So, for the meantime, only documentaries will be licensed under Creative Commons, since the broadcaster owns a large part of these rights. What the BBC intends to do, from the time the archive is created, is to request authorisation for all those who participate in any type of production to facilitate digitalisation and licensing.
Rets – Could this turn into a worldwide trend, or will BBC be an isolated case?
Christian Ahlert – I believe that it is essential for the modern age to open up the archives. There is a lot of protected production and, with digitalisation, the public will be able to watch these programmes when they want, and also to use their images.
Rets – Who did the initiative come from, to make the archives available under Creative Commons licensing?
Christian Ahlert – The CC was supported by the ex-Director of Content of the BBC and this support was continued by the current management, as well as within the organisation. It took a lot of time to achieve approval, but now more and more people are convinced that this is the right thing to do. We have to change the way we think about broadcasting. Currently, it is a passive thing: you sit on the sofa and watch the programmes. But, from now on, programmers will need to change their concept, and start thinking of it as something more participatory, in which the viewers have their part in the production process.
Rets – Was there some problem with the broadcaster’s legal department?
Christian Ahlert – Some arguments were raised, mainly with regard to moral rights. The lawyers have a point: some artists do not know that this is being done with their work, and this is something very difficult to control.
We need to change our way of thinking, since the use of productions is very old, and comes from cultures with whom we have no contact, prior to this strict copyright licensing practice. For a long time we have been hearing stories told by other people and retold. That was 300, 500 years ago, and people didn’t make contracts like today.
Rets – Will the BBC’s new productions be made under Creative Commons licensing ?
Christian Ahlert- I hope so.
This report was produced by RETS, the online magazine of APC’s Brazilian member RITS, at the Fifth World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil where the message is “another world is possible”. APC collected coverage on ICTs and internet at the World Social Forum and provided translation for this article from the original in Portuguese.