open the past, create the future

creative archive – royal television society

Speech delivered to the Royal Television Society, 28th October, 2004

We didn’t have any AV facilities on the night so while it says there was slides…there wasn’t. I just waved my arms around a lot and tried to explain to television folks what Machinima was.

Hello my name is Paula Le Dieu – and I work for BBC New Media. I am here today to tell you a little bit about the creative archive project…and creativity online generally.

SLIDE 2 – image of micro
In 1982, the BBC, in conjunction with Acorn, released a personal computer onto the market. It was designed to a very high specification and represented the cutting edge of personal computers.

Around 1 Million BBC Micros – as they were known – were sold before the BBC withdrew from the market unclear as to the success or failure of the undertaking.

In retrospect however, we now recognise that far from a failure, the BBC Micro was actually part of the toolkit with which our audiences took their first creative steps into the digital age.

The BBC facilitated this creativity by ensuring that the Micro was Open – open at every level. Users could and were encouraged to hack the hardware, hack the software, create their own applications, create their own solutions, create their own uses, and some of them chose to create their own games. This was an important part of the success story that is now the British Games industry, exceeded in net worth only by Japan and the US.

SLIDE 3 – 20 years later
20 years later and the latest generation of personal computers continue to provide ever more sophisticated tools for creativity and innovation. However, something else happened in those intervening years – SLIDE 4 – more and more of those personal computers started to talk to each other, the world wide web was born. SLIDE 5 – And all that individual creativity, all that individual innovation was – literally – linked – together.

And then something really ordinary happened – the web generation started to talk to each other, started to share ideas, shared sketches, plans, betas – pilots and rushes, shared news and the more they shared the greater was the wealth of material from which they could draw on for inspiration, to fuel the next idea, the next plan, the next grand vision.

It was ordinary because this was what we normally do – we have an idea and chat about it with our mates. They provide feedback, help flesh it out, maybe provide some of their own ideas in the process, perhaps point to something similar they know about. the only real difference with the web is that suddenly we have a lot more mates and we don’t have to wait until we meet up at the pub.

As citizens of the web, we rediscovered that between us we rarely needed to start from the beginning, we could help each other by providing parts of the solution or by providing the foundations on which the next idea could grow. We shared as the default – did you know for example that 90% of all the assets – the furniture, the toys, the decorations that appear in the online game – the Sims are generated by the players, generated then shared so everyone can use them and modify them – in other words each of the players takes a part in the creative process.

Building public value says is best:

“We look forward to a future where the public have access to a treasure-house of digital content, a store of value which spans media and platforms, develops and grows over time, which the public own and can freely use in perpetuity. A future where the historic one-way traffic of content from broadcaster to consumer evolves into a true creative dialogue in which the public are not passive audiences but active, inspired participants.”

So let me summarise here quickly –

The BBC, though perhaps a little slow on the uptake, comes to realise that letting our audience have open access to the means to create could generate significant public value.

At the same time, a growing number of our audience are realising that far from being passive recipients of creativity, they have the potential to be active participants in the creative process. A process predicated on re-use and sharing of ideas, expression and creativity.

Fortunately, a few years ago some farsighted people at the BBC joined these two realisations together and came up with the Creative Archive. I came along later. I am simply building on their ideas.

So what is the Creative Archive..

The Creative Archive is a BBC led public service initiative to digitise and distribute the BBC audio and video archive in such a way that it allows the UK public to download, listen, watch and re-use the material in their own creative endeavours.

In other words, we want our audiences to rip, mix and share their BBC. We want the BBC to be part of our audiences creative process, we want the cultural heritage, the history of ideas and expression that is the BBC archive to become part of the foundation on which our audiences can build – and we are doing this because we believe that this will provide the fuel for a truly Creative Nation.

And their is not doubt that we have a lotta fuel. In fact we have…

1.5 million artefacts of video and film representing 600,000 hours of video or for those of you planning a night in – more than 68 years worth of consecutive viewing.

In the sound archive we have .5 million recordings.

And every year this huge, locked store of public value grows and grows and grows.

How are we going to unlock that value…well…
OK – So this is the bit where I have to fess up that this isn’t going to be something that happens overnight – this is going to be a long journey for both the BBC, our audiences and our contributors – and it is a journey that is largely uncharted.
Fortunately however we do have some clues as to how we might navigate some of the trickier parts.

SLIDE 11 – Distribution
When we first started thinking about the Creative Archive – a whole Director General ago – the most pressing concern was whether we could afford to distribute digital audio and video. As a broadcaster distributing online we were distressed to discover that the more popular we were, the more expensive our bandwidth bills became…if we were to put the archive online we could only do so in the hope that it was really really unpopular!

Fortunately, P2P distribution technologies emerged and suddenly we realised that our audiences could be both our creative partners, and our distribution partners.

Another challenge was how we were going to let people know what they could and couldn’t do with material in the Creative Archive. We needed a communications and a legal framework that signalled to our audiences that many of the rights traditionally associated with copyright are waived.

Fortunately, we had some great models that we could look to. The Free and Open software community have been successfully using alternate licencing agreements to foster creativity amongst software developers for the last 20 years – this has led to the creation of an extraordinary body of software including Linux – now a major player in the software market place.

More recently organisations such as have ported these alternative licencing framework to the world of content – and hey presto we have a model for the communications and legal framework we need.

Indeed the licence we will use is heavily indebted to creative commons and we have worked closely with them and their efforts to create a UK based creative commons licence. We have done this in order to ensure that the Creative archive licence and the Creative commons licence interoperate. A key consideration if we want to truly participate in our audiences creativity.

For those of you not familiar with either free software licencing or the licences of creative commons – then let Jason Cone tell you all about.

SLIDE 14 – Building on the Past.

The great thing about Jason’s work is that it uses materials available in another online archive released under similar terms to Creative Archive – this is the Prelinger collection – housed on

Rick Prelinger is an interesting side story in the world of re-use. Rick has built up an impressive collection of ephemeral film – mostly stuff made by government bodies, industry bodies and a few commercials, mainly from the 50s and 60s. Rick makes his living from this collection. A couple of years ago, Rick was convinced to put a selection of his collection online, for free, to use for free, it was free to use. Rick’s business grew, indeed so successful that he plans on putting nearly his entire collection online under the same terms. Did I mention that it was free to use?

Back to the licence.

As I mentioned, the creative archive licence will look a lot like a Creative Commons licence.

It will require attribution. In other words, you need to let people know who contributed to your creation, including yourself of course.

It will only allow use of creative archive material for Non-commercial purposes.

it will require if you create something new using creative archive material you do so under that same terms that you acquired it. In other words, the licence stays the same.

And finally, and uniquely to the Creative Archive licence, you are only licenced to use Creative Archive material within the UK.

At one point we did consider whether in addition to telling our audiences what they could and couldn’t do, we would try and technically enforce what they could and couldn’t do through the use of Digital Rights Management.

However, it became very clear that DRM was not the answer for Creative Archive.

If we think about DRM technologies as being an envelope in which content is placed – you know one of those business envelopes with the clear plastic windows? Well DRM relies on making really strong envelopes that are difficult to open. You can only experience the content through the little plastic window.

So if you then think about what the Creative Archive is encouraging audiences to do – experiencing the content by watching or listening whenever you want, on any device you want AND incorprating the whole or parts of it in your own creative works – you come to realise that we are explicitly encouraging you to reach into the envelope and pull the contents out. Un-openable envelopes, like DRM prevents access, re-use.

Once again we return to the value of openness – we want this content to be as open as possible so that the only limitation is the imagination of our audiences. This is a theme you see echoed throughout Building Public Value – the most salient reference is…


“Digital exclusion is a form of social waste. This is why the BBC will always be on the side of universal provision, open access and unencryption.”

Slide 10 – Issues
Sadly not all the issues we face are as clear cut.

Slide 11 – Digitisation
600,000 hours of video and half a million audio recordings – digitising this is not an insignificant undertaking. The task of getting programming from the tape on a shelf to digital form represents what I think will ultimately be the most time consuming aspect of the creative archive project. Fortunately, it is a task that is at the core of the BBC’s aspiration to becoming a fully digitised production environment.

Slide 12 – Metadata
Once the program is digitised we have to name it, describe it in order that it can be found.

This is one that makes it hard for me to sleep – and the reason is that I don’t know what you are looking for. I can describe a programme as being funny but you don’t care if it is funny, you want to know if it has a soundbite that helps you illustrate the linguistic commonalities between the cockney and australian accent.

How do we anticipate your every need? We are rapidly coming to the conclusion that we can’t and won’t. Instead we will once again partner with our audiences so that they add the meaning that is appropriate for them and their communities of interests.

Finally, the one that wakes me up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night…

Slide 13 – Rights
It is no secret that the BBC does not own the rights to all the content in the archive. Indeed, rights ownership in BBC archival material is a very complex and rich ecosystem. All I will say on this point is that in order for the Creative Archive to succeed we, as part of the creative industry, need to understand how we can negotiate a path that ensures that the dusty library sees the light of day as quickly as possible.

Slide 14 – BBC
Most of this talk has so far been about what the BBC is doing. However, the Creative Archive is not just about the BBC. You may have noticed that when I spoke about what the Creative Archive is earlier I described it as a BBC led public service initiative.

What that says in simple terms is the Creative Archive can and should be more than the BBC. We really hope that we will be able to provide the learning and the case studies that will allow other large archives to join in opening access under the same or similar terms to the Creative Archive.

Of course, individuals are already thinking up ways to be part of the creative process. I want to share with you some of my favourite examples of creative re-use, of individuals expressing themselves and sharing that expression for others to use and finally just a good ol fashioned party piece.

A bit of a disclaimer for this first clip – the BBC doesn’t necessarily endorse or not endorse the content of this clip – but the creativity rocks!

Slide – read my lips video

Slide – moblog – screengrab

Slide – audioscrobbler – screengrab
Legal sharing of playlists

Slide – cantina crawl

The wonderful and the scary thing about Creative Archive is that I don’t know how people will use it. The examples we have just seen would seem to suggest that there is no shortage of desire to share creativity, to become a prosumer – a producer and a consumer – but what will people make with it, what will they learn from it. Personally I can’t wait to find out…


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