[sigh] So, since reading about Greg Dyke’s plan to put the BBC archive online, I’ve been wondering what they plan to do about rights. In the rush to praise the Beeb this has rather been overlooked. Let me explain.
When you make a TV programme, you (usually) pay people for the work they contribute. In the case of creative talent – presenters, actors, voice-over performers, musicians, and in times gone by directors – the rights bought are extremely specific. Usually, the broadcaster only has the right to show a programme two or three times. Additional broadcasts or export sales trigger extra payments, called ‘residuals.’ This is the way the industry works, and how people make their living. It’s perfectly possible to have a system where people are ‘bought out’ of all their rights by the broadcaster at the start: indeed, I work on such terms – I get paid once and the production company owns the product of my work. But still, my programmes are encumbered by presenters’, music and occasionally archive video/stills reproduction rights. You could change this for future series by spending more upfront, but you can’t do that retrospectively.
For much of the BBC’s archive, they simple don’t have the artists’ permission to reproduce the show – until relatively recently, digital non-broadcast formats (ie. internet delivery) simply won’t be mentioned in the contract. Even if rights can be secured, the time required to do so for even a small fraction of the BBC’s archive would be immense.
So… ‘putting the BBC’s archive online for the public’ – which is what Dyke has been reported and praised as saying – implies renogotiation of rights deals en masse, right? Er… well, no, because that’s not what he promised, as even cursory journalism reveals.
Here’s the full text of Greg Dyke’s speech. In particular, here’s the section where he describes what he actually has in mind:
We intend to allow parts of our programmes, where we own the rights, to be available to anyone in the UK to download so long as they don’t use them for commercial purposes.
Under a simple licensing system, we will allow users to adapt BBC content for their own use.
Now, this isn’t what I’ve seen people online – including me – discussing. It isn’t even close. We’ll get clips of Walking with Dinosaurs (BBC in-house production, available without voiceover, and they own the music), but the full run of Blake’s 7 or any of the costume dramas? That’s not what Dyke’s talking about.
It’s still a fine endeavour, but it’s emphatically not ‘putting the BBC’s archive online.’ Not by a long shot.
[update: here’s an example of the sort of thing that’s around on the web. And of course, I fell for it myself; not a shock, since the original BBC News Online article makes the same mistake! C’mon folks, let’s check facts with the original sources!. If we’re going to play at being journos, let’s do it properly.]