Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by British Film Institute (bfi)

  The bfi welcomes the Committee's inquiry into the opportunities and challenges for the creative industries associated with the development of new media platforms.

  Preservation and access to the nation's film heritage and culture have been the responsibility of the bfi for more than 70 years. In that time, there have been major technological advances as new platforms have emerged, and it is notable that at each point of innovation there has been anxiety and defensiveness among the incumbent operators as their business models have been threatened. The reality has always been somewhat different as these most popular contemporary art forms have grown to be global industries able to provide content, and therefore income streams, across a arrange of platforms.

  The bfi's National Film and Television Archive has sought to maintain a record of the unique achievements of the creative workers in the United Kingdom in producing works in these fields, albeit without legal deposit and with limited funding when compared to the investment in the preservation of much less technically challenging paper records. Today, the National Film and Television Archive contains 750,000 titles from the earliest days of film making in 1895 to the present. We have related materials ranging from personal and company papers to design and publicity materials and no less than seven million stills. We have one of world's biggest libraries devoted to subjects related to film and television. We operate the National Film Theatre, a cinematheque celebrating artistic achievement in film and television across the globe, and will in 2006 extend its footprint to create bfi South Bank, which will include a mediatheque facility offering access to browsable digital surrogates of material from our collections.

  All the elements collected in the National Film and Television Archive are part of our collective history as a nation. From these films and television programmes we can offer visual memories of the past, the bad and the good as well as the mundane (our Charter enjoins us to maintain a record of the life of the nation as recorded on film). The twentieth century was the first century when historical events were captured in such vivid detail but also when individuals, for a variety of reasons, recorded events in everyday life which now absorb us by their difference to contemporary life.

  The bfi realised as early as 1995 that network and digital technologies would provide the opportunity, rights permitting, to make its archival collections available UK wide. The Millennium Commission believed the project "insufficiently distinctive" but after a series of pilot projects, in 2001 the bfi finally secured significant funding from the New Opportunities Fund Digitisation scheme to develop and launch, in November 2003, screenonline ( screenonline gives access in schools, colleges and libraries in the UK to films and television programmes from the National Film and Television Archive supported by contextual information and data. With more than half a million page impressions a month and the moving image material is available in nearly 5,000 organisations in the UK—from the far north in the Shetland Isles to the far south on the island of Jersey. By the end of 2006 screenonline will be available in every school in England through the National Education Network, and in every school in the UK by the end of 2007.  The impact of screenonline has been noted across the world. A similar project has been spawned in Australia, and many international organisations and bodies including the European Commission have lauded screenonline.

  The bfi has also played a major role in the development of digital cinema in the UK. The National Film Theatre, on the bfi Southbank site, is home to Europe's only cinema digital test bed. This is the result of a unique collaboration between various commercial and non-commercial organisations working in the film industry at all levels from production through to exhibition. The test bed was set up in 2003 and was primarily funded by the Department of Trade and Industry as well as by other leading industry partners. The test bed facility was initially to run for two years, however, it is generally felt that there is still a need for this facility, which was hailed as one of the DTI's most successful projects last year, and the NFT is currently seeking further funding to continue its work. The primary objective of the test bed is to operate a D-cinema test facility to demonstrate all elements of digital cinema distribution and reproduction. This has enabled experiments and investigations to be carried out on various parts of the D-cinema chain in order to gather data for the world standardisation of parameters for D-cinema. The test bed is now concentrating on training and the dissemination of information for all levels of the film and exhibition industry in order to ensure that the UK film industry is able to fully embrace and take advantage of the roll out of the UK Film Council-backed Digital Screen Network.

  There are important challenges which face any public cultural organisation like the bfi in the new network world. The first is to be seen to maximise public value from the assets we hold on behalf of the nation in order to secure stakeholder support and investment to maintain and develop a capacity to enable and to encourage audience use of them. The challenge today is different from when we were confined to buildings. We have built up massive collections and preserved them at taxpayer's expense because most film production and distribution entities, and early television organisations, considered their output ephemeral and not worthy, and certainly too costly to retain at the end of what they saw as their commercial life. It was only public organisations—the film archives—which recognised this neglect and stepped in to secure their retention. Technology has made a new approach possible to these same accumulated archival holdings and widening access to this material has become a key priority.

  Digital and network technologies have become a threat to rights owners keen to extend the period of copyright and their lock on cultural goods, but an opportunity to those in the public sector, and some in the commercial sector, who see the possibility of enriching lives and enabling creativity in a medium previously dominated by the professional class.

  The bfi is assiduous in ensuring our operations always observe every aspect associated with intellectual property rights. We endorse the longstanding trade off in society since the early 18th century in the UK between the rights of the author and the rights of citizens. However, where once this was an equitable balance—recognising that most "new" inventions are based on many older ones and that to restrict knowledge would inhibit progress—we now see attempts to extend the term of copyright to a wholly unreasonable term beyond the death of the author or any principal. While opposing these lobbies we have managed to develop network services within an educational framework with the full cooperation of rightsholders.

  A second dimension of the digital and network developments at the bfi, which has grown directly out of our investment in digitisation, is the Creative Archive pilot. We believe, with our partners the BBC, Channel 4, the Open University and Teachers' TV that this provides the framework of a 21st Century solution to the responsibilities we have to create public value from our work. It is an initiative which is oriented to the new world of file sharing, vernacular culture and creativity. The pilot project started in April 2005 and continues until October 2006 and makes material available for downloading to the personal computers of UK taxpayers under a non-commercial licence—the Creative Archive Licence. We see this as the first step on the road to creating a People's Archive of material, where citizens use their camcorders, mobile phones and the internet, to create and share with others their own short films about themselves or some aspect of their life, some of which should be retained for posterity. Just as in the 19th Century amateurs could clip favourite articles or images from the booming periodical and newspapers of the time to collect in scrap books to hold their memories or tell their very own stories, so today we see web sites or blogs performing some similar functions. We want to help people share their passions and inscribe their memories by using this Creative Archive material as they see fit.

  The bfi sits firmly within Britain's public culture complex. We address market failure in our services to achieve citizen benefit and thus provide public value. These bfi projects are designed to realise maximum public value from our collections; one to provide people with the opportunity to gain an understanding of films from Britain's past and to offer a window on what Britain was like in the life and times of former generations; the other to give them opportunities to repurpose some of the material in our collections to their own ends—whatever they choose to do so long as it is not commercial and does not bring us into disrepute.

  However, all these noble aims are as nothing if the rights regime in the network world unnecessarily inhibits access and creativity. Solutions are needed to overcome the rights issues which prevent the riches held by public organisations being easily and fairly made available. We believe Governments should ensure that the safeguarding of commercial rights does not lock down other possible uses, indeed that Government should seek to further liberate the wealth of our nations currently held in the archives for all the world to benefit. To quote from the recently published Adelphi Charter "it is a human right to ensure everyone can create, access, use and share information and knowledge". The creative imagination requires access to the ideas, learning and culture of others, past and present. As public bodies we have to go with the grain of the enabling facilities provided by technology—and rights cannot be a barrier. The new licensing models—from creative commons to creative archive—offer a hint as to the immense opportunities that can be grasped with some innovative thinking and generosity by organisations with rights to give. We believe these issues should be a central concern of the Committee's inquiry.

  These bfi initiatives necessarily inform our response to the four key topics noted by the Committee:

    (i)  Impact of convergence on creative industries

  Much has been written about the effects of convergence on the creative industries with a degree of inevitable hostility from incumbent operators as their business models become problematic.

  The most obvious result of convergence has been the emergence of new platforms through which content can be distributed, and the concomitant rise in the risk of perfect copies being easily cloned and having a significant impact on revenues. The responses—engendering longer copyright terms or labeling the activity of file-sharing as piracy—have been disproportionate and are based on a particular understanding of the conditions for creativity and a defensiveness which in our opinion will have the effect of chilling innovation. New business models which embrace the new technologies have finally begun to be developed and there are now clear signs of change and progress.

    (ii)  Effects of unauthorised reproduction

  The British Film Institute has a commitment to the settlement which copyright law has underwritten since the days of Queen Anne: fair but time limited remuneration for authors and creators but a recognition that all innovation is based on previous discoveries and that there is a public interest in the dissemination of knowledge. The bfi ensures that all its operations act within the framework of the copyright regime.

  We understand the desire to introduce new mechanisms for revenue collection in the digital environment but believe these should strike a fair and equitable balance between the interests of commerce and the interests of the citizen and consumer. We welcome the development of Digital Rights Management but implementation is problematic as interoperability between systems has not been a priority and the systems available are proprietary.

  We accept that unauthorised reproduction is problematic where the rightsholder withholds permission for non-commercial use but believe the activities enabled by file sharing provides a new dimension to the media literacy of the nation. The Creative Commons approach to rights and the related Creative Archive licence, which we are using in conjunction with our partners in the Creative Archive Licence Group, offers one solution, which we believe is beneficial to the nation's stock of skills and knowledge and provides significant citizen value.

  In addition, there is a need to improve the framework within which film archives operate through amendments to existing legislation. Firstly, film archives should be the same right to make copies of material in their collections for preservation purposes as was granted to libraries and museums in 1989.  This could be achieved by an amendment to Statutory Instrument 1989 No 1212 [The Copyright (Librarians and Archivists) (Copying of Copyright Material) Regulations 1989]. Secondly, there needs to be a review of the implementation of the 2003 Copyright Directive into British law. It was unfortunate that the revisions to the CDP 1988 did not take the opportunity to extend the list of exceptions to include the right for archives to digitise, a necessary prerequisite for easier access in the digital world, subject always to permissions from the rightsholders.

    (iii)  Regulatory environment for non-traditional media platforms

  The debate over the regulatory environment for new media platforms is in its infancy. We tend to favour a liberal approach and can see no justification for censorship or additional regulation of the internet or other new media platforms beyond those which are already in place for other media. The current legal and regulatory frameworks as they stand should suffice until there is a proven problem. Where debate and possible action is needed is in the area of IPR. The EU Copyright Directive is inadequate on many counts and is not "fit for purpose" in the digital age where restrictions on reuse will inhibit innovation and creativity—the very stock on which the Lisbon agenda for a knowledge society was founded.

    (iv)  Rights of creators and expectations of citizens

  As a partner in the Creative Archive Licence Group, the bfi is committed to the operation of a non-commercial share alike licence through which it can make material available for download and reuse. The bfi has been a pioneer in media education in the UK since the 1960s and plays a key role in developing the Government's media literacy agenda. We believe the Creative Archive is an important part of this development as it enables students and others to repurpose existing material as part of their own work. We are aware of the concerns expressed by those in the creative community but we would like to canvas a recognition that this reworking of existing materials for non-commercial uses is beneficial in the longer term to Britain's creative and knowledge industries. Furthermore, there is evidence that this will have a positive consequent impact on the commercial earnings of those whose work is made available in this way.

24 February 2006

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