BBC prepares to put TV archive on Web

The BBC's decision to let British surfers download TV footage and share it between friends could help to drive broadband and the take-up of new, faster PCs

The BBC has given a major boost to the Creative Commons movement this week by revealing how it plans to open up its archive of broadcasting material to UK Internet users.

The corporation has decided to allow surfers to download, distribute and modify digital clips of BBC television programmes through an initiative called the Creative Archive.

While users won't be allowed to resell the material, they will enjoy increased access to content that many potential users effectively paid the BBC to create through their licence fees.

A Creative Commons licence allows content creators to dictate whether or not anyone can copy their own work, creative derivative works from it, or use it for commercial purposes. It is an attempt to create a middle-ground rather than making content owners choose between putting something fully into the public domain or controlling it tightly through copyright.

This move has been warmly welcomed by Professor Lawrence Lessig, chair of the Creative Commons project, who has played a major role in driving the Creative Commons agenda for several years.

Professor Lessig believes the Creative Archive could give a massive boost to Britain's digital content market, and could also encourage more people to take up a high-speed Internet connection and a faster PC.

"The announcement by the BBC of its intent to develop a Creative Archive has been the single most important event in getting people to understand the potential for digital creativity, and to see how such potential actually supports artists and artistic creativity," said Professor Lessig.

"If the vision proves a reality, Britain will become a centre for digital creativity, and will drive the many markets – in broadband deployment and technology – that digital creativity will support," he added.

The BBC plans to open up the Creative Archive this autumn. Initially, users will just get access to clips from factual programmes but Corporation expects to add more types of content in the future.

"Should we be successful with our approach," says Paula Le Dieu, Joint Director, BBC Creative Archive, "we may be able to release, over time, more programme genres – sport, music, drama – and possibly longer formats to the public.

"We can build on the initial factual clips offered at launch by the BBC Creative Archive and offer a new public asset drawn from broadcast content for the whole UK."

At this stage, though, the BBC hasn't revealed precise details of the Creative Commons licence that it will use. It's also not clear how, or even if, it will restrict access to UK licence-fee payers.