Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Creative Archive

Paul Gerhardt describes the origins and development of the Creative Archive Project at the BBC.

Last April the BBC, together with Channel 4 Television, the British Film Institute and the Open University, launched the Creative Archive Licence. It was a small act, but it could prove to be a momentous step in how we use moving image and audio in our public and cultural life.

Personal Media

Take the example of Jim, who runs a small charity to support patients - and their families - with multiple sclerosis. Television and radio programmes on health treatment and care, many of them going back decades, are known to exist. Indeed, Jim may well have been interviewed for some of them. But they are out of bounds for the information sharing that Jim provides for his network.

Simon is from a younger generation, and is beginning to experiment with video production. He is keen to learn from the best documentary makers, and his many creative ideas include clever adaptations of existing programmes. Simon knows that some of the file-sharing networks offer pirated versions of British and US TV shows, but he is nervous about using them. And anyway, if he did so, he could not share his creative adaptations with his friends and colleagues around the UK without drawing attention to his use of copyrighted content.

Although we are all familiar with the impact of film, television and radio on our daily lives, most of us continue to experience it as a 'one-way' process from the active producer/broadcaster to the passive viewer. These powerful media have none of the fluid, personalised interplay of words and text, where our experiences range from the purchase of authored work from bookshops, to 'free' access from the public library, right through to personal applications where we sample text, quote to friends, and use the literary world as a sourcebook for our own creativity.

Only in the world of formal education have some of these restrictions been eased for audio-visual material. The Educational Recording Agency (ERA) scheme was an important breakthrough, allowing teachers and lecturers to copy and store recently broadcast programmes - and to shape their use to the needs of the curriculum. The ERA scheme is a response to the power of moving images on the process of learning in the classroom. But learning, of course, is not restricted to the classroom.

There is also growing evidence that media files are the new currency of the Web. The downloading and sharing of moving image files is driving the latest phase in the growth of the Internet, following the previous waves of text, pictures and music. (In 2003, the downloading of video and other files grew to make up slightly more than half (51.3%) of all file sharing in OECD countries, while music downloading fell to 48.6% [1]). The technology now exists for moving images to acquire the same intrinsic characteristics as text: for people to carry with them, to quote from, to manipulate, and to share with others. Almost all of this activity contravenes existing copyright arrangements - particularly broadcasting, which remains geared to providing one or two 'opportunities to view'.

What Is 'Creative Archive'?

The Creative Archive will offer free access to BBC content for learning, for creativity and for pleasure. From home, the public will be able to:

The distinctive features of the Creative Archive are the sharing of content with the public and the provision of a safe, legal framework.

The service has the potential to change the relationship between the BBC and its audience. By recognising user-generated work it will extend the audience experience from viewing (broadcasting) and interactivity (Web) to co-creation.

In this way, the Creative Archive [2] Licence will provide a legal framework for the integration of moving images and audio into home use: for pleasure, for creativity and for learning. It has been inspired by the Creative Commons movement [3] which offers a 'third way' between full public domain and 'all rights reserved'. As with Creative Commons, the Creative Archive Licence recognises and preserves copyright, but releases the opportunity to engage in non-commercial sharing and integration into personal derived work. The Creative Archive Licence has been adapted to fit the specific requirements of broadcasters, media producers and curators of film, television and audio collections. It allows the downloading of media to the user's hard drive 'to copy and/or Share the Work and/or create, copy and/or Share Derivative Works on any platform in any media.' Besides the prohibition on commercial use, the user must Share Alike under the same terms, credit the owners and contributors, treat the content with respect (No Endorsement) and restrict its distribution to the UK.

At this stage the Licence is provisional and open to public discussion and refinement. At its launch on 13 April 2005, the Licence was offered as a new industry standard with an open invitation to other content holders to adopt it. Teachers' TV is the first organisation to accept the invitation. In his speech at the launch, David Puttnam spoke of 'the Creative Archive (as) an idea whose time has come' and reaffirmed his belief that 'that access to ... content is a fantastic tool for creative expression and learning'.

Each organisation will apply the Licence to its own plans for downloading content. The Open University will make up to five hours of its science content available. Channel 4 Television will use the Licence to provide archive material and support for new, young documentary makers. The British Film Institute has already released early British documentary material and there have been over 13,000 downloads in the last few weeks.

The BBC's Pilot

For the BBC, the Licence is the means by which its rich and wide ranging archive can be made accessible at last to the public. It is a major step for the world's largest public service broadcaster and requires a special approach in order to manage both the risks and the public expectations.

Unusually for a new BBC service, we plan to develop our Creative Archive in an open and transparent manner. The public consultation on the Licence scheme will be followed by a pilot phase, lasting through to the autumn of 2006. Over this period we will release up to one hundred hours of television and radio content. This will allow us to test three significant issues: the potential size of the user audience (including how they use BBC content); the degree to which the new Licence scheme is understood and respected; and finally, the overall market impact on other commercial activities.

The content will be in the form of both extracts and whole programmes, available at MPEG1 quality (i.e. non-broadcast). It is likely that a simple form of one-off sign-up will be required. The material will be released in a series of editorial 'campaigns' in association with the relevant factual and learning sites on bbc.co.uk. For instance, nature and science content will be available through bbc.co.uk/sn/ [4] and learning content through bbc.co.uk/schools/ [5].

Factual content has been chosen for the pilot phase because the BBC wholly owns a higher percentage of the material, and there is a proven demand for the BBC's high-quality factual output. However, it is the long-term intention of the Creative Archive to include content across all of the BBC's genres. We can only do so with the full consent of all the stakeholders and right holders.

Market Impact

It is the BBC's conviction that making non-commercial material available to the UK public will benefit all the stakeholders in the content - as well as create public value itself. By unlocking the BBC's archive we believe we can demonstrate that not only will significant minority interests be served, but that new entrepreneurial activities will be generated. A proportion of user-derived work may well have significant commercial value, and it is central to the purpose of the Creative Archive that it will be relatively simple for these creators to 'opt out' of the scheme and put their work on a commercial basis. After all, why should the BBC have the exclusive right to use its archive content to develop an educational package on 20th Century Physics for the classroom, or a naturalist's guide to British wildlife? There are gifted teachers and naturalists with the technical skills to create these works for themselves. The Creative Archive will provide new producers and entrepreneurs with the right to either share their applications freely with others or to acquire the commercial rights to publish in the marketplace. At the launch seminar speakers from the United States confirmed the value of this business model. Rick Prelinger, owner of the Prelinger Archive [6] pointed out that the free availability of his collection on the Internet Archive [7] had increased his business turnover as well as opening up new markets for archive film.

But many of these questions will only be anwered if we can get the material 'out there'. The pilot phase will provide the evidence and the data to debate many of these issues in depth, including the need to educate and to understand the laws of copyright. The holders of underlying rights in BBC archive content will need to be assured that existing commercial value is not endangered, and that wider availability will open up new opportunities for both public profile and commerce. In many ways it is a paradigm shift in the rights culture, and it is appropriate that a major publicly funded organisation such as the BBC should take the lead and explore the risks.

Conclusion: Putting the User First

Once we have proved the concept, we will need to return to the question of partnership with other organisations. The sharing of the legal framework is a vital first step - there is no other way in which a new Licence of this kind can be speedily introduced to - and understood by - the downloading public. But if we are going to put the user at the core of this new service, we also need to consider a number of other issues. For instance, can we share technical standards with other providers? Should we develop a common approach to metadata? Will users prefer a single search engine which can range across film, television and radio archives in the UK? How can we collaborate on a joint venture while preserving our separate roles, identities and branding?

These are valid questions. By keeping close to the user experience, I believe that we can answer them. By inviting users to become partners in the development of a national Creative Archive, we can shape a service which will stimulate our media skills and enrich our national culture. We are on the threshold of an age in which broadcasters become co-creators with their audiences.


  1. See http://www.oecd.org/document/
  2. Creative Archive Licence Group http://creativearchive.bbc.co.uk/
  3. Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/
  4. bbc.co.uk/sn/ http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/
  5. bbc.co.uk/schools/ http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/
  6. Prelinger Archive http://www.prelinger.com/
  7. The Internet Archive http://www.archive.org/

Author Details

Paul Gerhardt
Creative Archive

Email: paul.gerhardt@bbc.co.uk
Web site: http://creativearchive.bbc.co.uk/

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