BBC Creative Archive: Pilot to Start in 2005

More details of the BBC’s Creative Archive were revealed at an Royal Television Society, London Centre meeting last night when Paula Le Dieu gave a presentation on the project’s background and recent developments. Following this, an hour-long discussion, chaired by Digital Lifestyles’s own Simon Perry, explored further details [MP3 recording ~14Mb].

Paula is co-director of the Creative Archive (CA), a project to make BBC archived audio and video media available to the UK public so that they can download it and make creative works based upon it.

The BBC is taking this extraordinary step as they believe it will help them give more value to the licence fee payers – one of their core values.

Paula told us that one of the inspirations for the move was the BBC Micro. Released in 1982, the BBC Micro was an open hardware and software platform that ignited public interest and in no small way contributed to the UK’s hugely popular computing and games scenes. Indeed, by encouraging owners to use the BBC Micro platform in whatever way they wished, it helped many people take their first steps into the digital age and helped shape the industry as it stands today. A game of Elite, anyone?

Since then, we’ve seen the rapid growth of the Internet, and this has encouraged users to share content around the world – and the more material that people share, the more there is for them to draw inspiration from.

The BBC, slow on the uptake, came to the realisation that opening up their archive would allow them to present significant value to their public – enabling them to listen, watch, download, share and use materials in any way they wish, under an non-restrictive licence.

The remit of the Creative Archive has changed since the BBC’s previous Director General, Greg Dyke, left – Mark Thompson, the new DG, is completely behind the project and wants to include full programmes from the BBC’s huge media library. Give that some of the material that may be released has not seen the light of day since broadcast, it’s an exciting opportunity to give new life to content that has been sitting on shelves gathering dust for years. The BBC’s archive contains some 1.5 million items of television, equating to 600,000 hours of television – or put another way, 68 years of consecutive viewing. In addition to this is 500,000 audio recordings.

Obviously, that’s a lot of bandwidth – and the more popular the Creative Archive becomes, the more expensive it will be to distribute it. Consequently, the BBC is looking at peer-to-peer (P2P) methods of distribution, so that the public become not just their creative partners, but distribution partners also. The Corporation is also looking to the public for help in metatagging the content, after all people need to find what they need and know what they are looking for. Users of the content will be invited to tag content, and communities of interest will be sought out for their expertise on particular subjects. Paula gave an example of the Archaeological Society, who have already, of their own volition,  tagged and catalogued all of the BBC’s archaeological output before the Creative Archive was even announced. Layers of metadata will be encouraged, so that content will be searchable in many different ways – for example, actors present, type of canned laughter – even types of shoes worn in a scene, and each layer will be open to peer review.

We feel this layering of metadata is of huge importance, an idea we have been putting to media owners for a long time. We feel the addition of descriptive metadata will be added to time-coded media with or without the owner blessing – it enables the viewing public to add their knowledge and experience, without limit of depth. It’s very encouraging to find that the BBC is to include this in CA.

New ways of using and accessing material require new licences. The Creative Archive team have looked at a number of alternative licences, and intent to distribute the content under terms based on the well-established Creative Commons (CC) Licence. Key requirements of content users will be that they properly credit the source and creators of the original materials, and that the new work they have produced inherits the same CC licence. All derivative works have to be non-commercial in nature – but of course a new licence can be sought for commercial use if required.

One aspect of the licence that needs work is a requirement that content is not distributed out of the UK. It is far from clear as to how this would be enforceable – web sites can be accessed from around the world, and one file downloaded from a P2P network may be assembled in blocks from a dozen countries. Any clip of interest to anyone will certainly be distributed worldwide within seconds of it becoming available. The provision has been built in because the UK licence fee is paying for the project, but it shows that the BBC is trying to tackle the new distribution problems that the digital age brings.

Because of content licensing within the BBC and the source of much of the materials in the archive, the Creative Archive’s material will be started off with natural history content – music clearance and artist’s rights will have to be tackled later before the rest of the archive is put online.

Andrew Chowns of the Producers Rights Agency raised the question of derogatory  treatment of works from the CA. Depending on the content within the CA this could become a problem. Nothing spreads faster than a Friday afternoon joke video clip, and the Creative Archive will no doubt contain many items that regulars to b3ta and similar sites might find too tempting not to load into Premier and misuse. Again, this is an aspect that they will need to work on.

To enable the public to use the content, it will not be distributed with a digital rights management scheme and will be available in a number of formats, probably two proprietary and one open. Le Dieu described DRM as an envelope with a transparent window that only allowed you to see part of the content, without getting access to it.

She also stressed that the Creative Archive is not just about the BBC – they want other content providers and broadcasters to get involved, and want to share what they have learned, and have still to learn, with them. The whole project is very much a learning exercise for the Corporation – scary and exciting in equal measures.

The Creative Archive know that they have a lot of areas that need to be explored and developed and are looking for ways to involve the public in the project. Although there is no fixed start date, a 18-month to two year pilot will begin in 2005. It will not be restricted in the number of people who can access it, only in the amount of material that will be available.

The CA will not be producing a software platform or editing tools as they feel there are already plenty of free and cheap solutions out there. They may however produce an environment for the public to showcase works they have produced using CA content, much like those around Video Nation and One Minute Movies.

The Creative Archive is certainly an exciting project – an experiment in alternative licensing, another legal application for P2P networks and a chance for the UK public to get their hands on some fascinating and important archive materials. As a vehicle for learning about content distribution and consumption in the digital age, we can’t think of a better example.

MP3 recording of the Creative Archive Q&A ~14Mb
BBC Creative Archive
Royal Television Society – London Centre
Producers Rights Agency UPDATE: James Governor’s write up

Preminet: Nokia’s Mobile Content Move

Courtesy of Nokia, mobile content distribution and transaction will reside in a one-stop-shop, making life easier for mobile networks and perhaps more interesting for the owners of some 350 million Java-enabled handsets (at last count.)

Preminet is a hosted open service model that streamlines all the steps involved in delivering content for smart phones through a single channel.

As a result of an agreement announced yesterday between Nokia and Starcut, a Finland-based mobile media publisher, content from Universal Studios and Warner Music Group Content will be made available to operators and consumers through the one-stop content shop.  Preminet and Starcut will provide operators with pre-certified content such as life-style and sports, ringtones, graphics, games and video that they can brand and offer over the Web, or via Java or Symbian OS enabled mobile phones.

Here’s how it works.  Preminet sources premium Java and Symbian OS software from leading developers and content aggregators worldwide to give operators a master catalogue of certified applications, games and other mobile content. A chain supply experts dream system – the sequence includes the Preminet Master Catalogue, Preminet Service Delivery Platform and Preminet Purchasing Client, an innovative software application that make it easy for end-users to trial run mobile applications, content and services before buying. Operators can integrate Preminet content into their own download delivery systems or have Nokia provide a complete hosted solution.

Until now, each operator was responsible for maintaining hundreds of relationships with individual Java and Symbian OS developers as well as sourcing and testing each application before bringing them to the end-user. Now they have a single channel – the Preminet Master Catalogue containing a whole range of Java and Symbian OS software as well as a framework for delivering billing and distributing revenues.

In February, Nokia took one of its first steps towards Preminet when it joined with Sun Microsystems, Motorola, Siemens and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications to create the Java Verified Process for testing and certifying Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) applications for wireless handheld devices.

Preminet is not a new concept though, coming after the Brew development platform for mobile devices from Qualcomm.  Preminet has been launched worldwide and Nokia expects a complete commercial deployment by the end of November.

Time will tell as to how the mobile and content industries will react to Nokia taking this role on, and taking a percentage for each transaction in the process.


Lexmark lose DMCA-case

Lexmark can no longer use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), enacted by Congress in 1998, to stop its competitors from creating and selling cartridges that interoperate with its printers.

A federal court has ruled that a small North Carolina company, Static Control Components (SCC) can continue selling their Smartek chip that allows any printer cartridge to work with Lexmark printers.  Or to put it another way, Lexmark, the No. 2 maker of printers in the United States, have learned the hard way that you can’t commandeer the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in conjunction with copyright law to create monopolies of manufactured goods for your company.

The decision lifts an injunction imposed by a lower court on the sale of Static Control Components (SCC) chips that allow any printer cartridge to work with Lexmark printers. Now, any company that wishes to compete with Lexmark in after-market cartridge sales can do so by using SCC chips in its products.

Congress originally intended the DMCA to prevent mass copyright infringement on the Internet.  But some companies have been scrutinising the small print and using legal loopholes to gain control over after-market competition. Lexmark, for example, programmed its printers to require a digital “handshake” with cartridges, so that only Lexmark cartridges could be used.  But when SCC started selling chips that allowed other companies to refill used cartridges and make them interoperable with Lexmark printers, Lexmark claimed they were engaging in unlawful reverse engineering and sued under the DMCA.

Under section 1201 of the DMCA, it is generally unlawful to circumvent technology that restricts access to a copyrighted work or sell a device that can do so. But Congress also included exemptions in the DMCA explicitly permitting activities such as interoperability, which permits reverse engineering, “for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs”. 

Unfortunatley for Lexmark, they were unable to convince the judge that SCC was in breach of section 1202, while SCC were able to convince him that they were not in breach.

The now-normal model of very cheap printers and costly ink cartridges may be coming to an end.

SCC Smartek

EU iTunes Expands to 9 Further Countries

Now customers in Austria, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain have their own EU iTunes with the same features and price of €0.99 per song.  A better deal than their UK neighbours who pay £0.79 (€1.16) per track since iTunes opened its store there in June.  This 17% extra loading prompted the Consumer’s Association to ask the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to investigate the pricing difference, claiming it is a potential breach of the competition law.

With the launch of EU iTunes Apple now reaches customers in almost 70 percent of the global music market, and it also announced that it will launch the iTunes Music Store in Canada this November. 

The EU iTunes Music Store features over 700,000 songs from all four major music companies and more than 100 independent record labels.  It also features exclusive tracks from leading worldwide artists, including Anastacia, Marc Anthony, Andrea Bocelli, Black Eyed Peas, Destiny’s Child, Bob Marley, George Michael, The Prodigy, Gwen Stefani, Travis and Zucchero.

EU iTunes has the same personal use rights as in the US, UK, France and Germany.  Users are allowed to play songs on up to five personal computers, burn a single song onto CDs an unlimited number of times, burn the same playlist up to seven times and listen to their music on an unlimited number of iPods.

The EU iTunes Music Store offers PC and Mac users the same features.  iMix playlist sharing, the dynamic ‘Party Shuffle’ playlist, over 8,000 audiobooks, which can be listened to on any PC, Mac or iPod, and ‘Artist Alert’ email service.  And last but not least, automatic WMA to AAC conversion, enabling Windows users to automatically create iTunes versions of songs encoded in unprotected WMA.

iTunes for Mac and Windows includes the EU iTunes Music Store and is available as a free download immediately from their Website. The EU iTunes Music Store works, of course, with the Euro, and purchase and download of songs requires a valid credit card – that is until Apple finds a company like PayPal to partner up with, as Naptser did this week.

Apple iTunes Music Store

Black Duck’s protexIP – Safer Open Source Code Usage

Open source can immediately prompt the words ‘law suit’ in some peoples’ minds, but Black Duck have introduced a software platform that helps developers catch and resolve potential intellectual property disputes.

A large software project may involve code and components from many sources – increasingly parts of a project may have open source origins. It’s highly likely that there will be some software on the computer that you’re using to read this now that will depend on open source components – and indeed the core of the internet depends on open source applications such as Apache.

Recently, some high profile conflicts between source code owners and developers has led to some very expensive and high profile legal challenges. The number of licenses, projects and obligations that a company needs to be aware of when looking to make a product that may involve open source code is immense – and checking and analysing what needs to be done, or what may happen if there is a conflict, is expensive and time-consuming.

Black Duck’s protexIP suite informs developers of code origins, license obligations and potential violations by producing a check list of items for them to resolve. Users can even run ‘whatif’ queries on code combinations.

The product is based around Black Duck’s 50gb knowledge base with information on more than 225 licenses. The company also uses spiders to monitor some 250 key open source projects to keep protexIP up to date.

“As open source and third party components proliferate and become nested in increasingly complex applications, the challenge of assuring compliance with licensing obligations becomes overwhelming without a comprehensive compliance platform,” said Karen Copenhaver, executive vice president and general counsel of Black Duck. “protexIP/license management empowers the lawyer’s oversight of the development process, from helping define and implement open source policy to approval of software release.”

Annual subscription packages start at US$9,500 (€7,595) for up to 2 seats. protexIP/license management customers must also subscribe to a protexIP/development package, which start at $12,500 (€9,993) for up to 5 seats.


Microsoft FAT Patent Claim “Bogus”

Microsoft’s patent on the File Allocation Table disk format has been rejected by the US Patent Office, on the grounds that it should never have been granted in the first place. The Patent Office has ruled that, although the patent was granted in 1996 and is not due to expire until 2013, the technology was obvious and there was prior art. Two big no-nos if you want to register a patent, basically.

The re-examination was prompted by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a non-profit legal services organisation that aims to protect the public from miss-use of the patent system.

Although first introduced in 1982, and largely superceeded by file formats like NTFS, the decision is a blow to Microsoft. FAT is currently enjoying an extended lifespan because it is used in Flash memory cards and by Linux to read DOS and Windows drives, and Microsoft were using the patent as a revenue stream by charging a licensing fee to those who wanted to use the technology. If you buy a Lexar Flash card for your camera, US$0.25 (€0.20) of the cost is for the FAT technology.

Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s executive director said: “The Patent Office has simply confirmed what we already knew for some time now, Microsoft’s FAT patent is bogus. I hope those companies that chose to take a license from Microsoft for the patent negotiated refund clauses so that they can get their money back.”

Microsoft have 90 days to put their side of the story forward or lose the patent claim altogether.

Public Patent Foundation

Roobarb and Custard in the 21st Century

Roobarb & Custard30-something nostalgics, rejoice: a new series of Roobarb and Custard is in production. IP owners and new series Executive Producers, A+B Productions have started work at Monster Animation Studios in Dublin. To be distributed by Celador, Roobarb and Custard Too uses hand-drawn and hand-animated cells coupled with modern production processes to produce a cartoon that is faithful to the original series.

Hardcore R&C fans will be relieved to hear that there is no dodgy computer graphics work in the new version, and that the classic look has not been messed around with. Having done a side-by-side comparison with an early animation sample, I was very impressed by the R&C Too, and was keen to find out how they managed to recreate the distinctive look of the original. Adam Sharp, co-founder of A+B Productions told us “We’re using innovative ways to bring back the classic feel the original hand drawn series had.”

I spoke to Gerard O’Rourke at Monster Animation Studios about the painstaking process that A+B and Monster went through to get the correct look and feel: “Everything is hand-drawn. It’s then traditionally scanned into a computer and digitised. It’s then animated by hand, using a graphics tablet and is then rendered using a combination of Photoshop and Painter to achieve that marker pen feel. From there it’s composited together in After Effects – and then it’s over to post production to do the sound.”

And how did they reproduce the wobbly lines? “They recreate the drawing a number of times – when it’s played back if gives you the wobbly lines. Because you have to replicate the drawing a number of times, you have to do extra and copy them and offset them,” Gerard told us.

“The old version was done in the 70s, and you’ve probably heard the stories of them getting unemployed brickies and everyone they could find to work on Roobarb and Custard – and the reason they had that look that the markers had run out was because the markers had run out! They didn’t use animators all the time, but it did create its own feel and look – and we’ve been trying to increase the production values but not lose the charm of the programme.”

What about people who may be worried that it’s just a Flash update?

“We don’t want people to think that it’s a Flash project, because Flash can tend to be very flat and internet-based, but it is a great animating tool. But it really is only a tool like Word and Excel. It’s how you use it afterwards – take the different functions out of it and then use them with your own techniques and methods. We’ve taken all our software to its limits and used all the libraries and tools that we could get.”

Gerard seems very pleased with amount of care that A+B have been putting in to the new series: “Richard Bryers is narrating the series again, he’s doing all the voices. Grange Caveley, creator and writer has written all the new scripts.”

“It’s very much Roobarb and Custard 1974.”

Monster Animation

If you just can’t wait for the new version of Roobarb and Custard, here’s a selection of can-buy products from Amazon
DVD: Roobarb And Custard – The Complete Roobarb And Custard [1974]
VHS: Roobarb And Custard

Warner Bros license films to Netflix VOD partnership

Netflix are doing a trial run of their movie-download service, and Warner Bros. have joined in the fun by agreed to license some of its films to Netflix for that very purpose, reports CNet.  This move adds strength to the rumour that Netflix and TiVo are poised to team up for a movie download service. 

What this means for the ordinary punter is a video-on-demand service (VOD), which would allow consumers to rent and download films from Netflix. This is where TiVo comes in. The downloaded film would then be accessible on TiVo’s personal video recorders for viewing on a regular television set.

While this may be a new venture for Netflix, it is not a new one for Warner Bros, who along with four other studios is currently a partner in Internet movie-download service Movielink.  It has also licensed films to competing Web service CinemaNow.

Apparently the agreement does not yet constitute a deal between Netflix and Warner Bros. and anyway, the video-on-demand service from Netflix is still only in the rurmour/planning phases.  Furthermore, TiVo has not actually announced a video-on-demand service. 

For the moment though, everything is unconfirmed, but quite often there is no smoke fire.  Enough clues have been given out to make the average reader pretty confident that something is going to happen soon. 

Netflix, for example has already said that it plans to launch an Internet download service next year, while TiVo has announced features that would support the download service, although it has not specified a time frame. But then on the other hand, representatives from both Netflix and TiVo have said in the past that they didn’t expect an Internet service to form part of their revenue earning strategies.


CinemaNow Signs separate Content and Distribution deals

CinemaNow, an Internet video-on-demand service, has announced a couple of deals recently. They have brought Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI) in to their portfolio of content that they can distribute. As part of the agreement, CinemaNow will offer Sony’s new release films the same day they become available in their traditional pay-per-view window along with previously released movies from Sony’s vast film library. All movies are offered on a 24 hour rental basis and priced at $3.99 for first-run films and $2.99 for library titles. Sony is the latest addition to the current roster of 20th Century Fox, Disney, Lions Gate, MGM, Miramax, Sony and Warner Bros.

They have also signed their first European distribution deal with Tiscali, giving users in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy streaming and downloading access to CinemaNow’s content.


RIAA squeeze audio Webcastsers

There was some significant news at the end of last week that will affect/restrict the breadth of music you can listen in the future.

The dispute that’s been rumbling on since 1998 between the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and audio Webcasters, widely know as Internet radio station. The RIAA wanted all Internet radio station to pay a fee to playing music, which most felt was reasonable. The major dispute has been about the level of the fee that is paid. On 20 June, 2002 the US Library of Congress set fee rates for playing music tracks over the Internet. The levels summarised on their site leads one of the many station that has been affected, somaFM, calculate that their DAILY fees would be $500 or $180,000 a year. somFM also say “Don’t listen to the RIAA press release that says most small webcasters will only pay the minimum $500 a year. Any station with more than an average of 5 concurrent listeners will be paying more than that minimum.”

Many of these stations are run by enthusiasts, many of whom made no money and others who spent money from their own pocket. Using their specialist musical knowledge and lead by their enthusiasm, they put collections of tracks together that exposed their wide audiences to music they were excited to hear.

While collect high royalties from Internet radio stations, allegedly more than 100% of their current collective revenues, the RIAA is using the argument that “Internet radio airplay hurts CD sales”.

This is opposite case for both me and many other listeners. By having my choices widened and I have bought more –one of the problems may be that these purchases have been from non-major labels and they don’t like it. The major labels must be frustrated by the fact the people are not interested in their ‘product’ and through lobby pressure they have forced a situation where the small originators find it financially impossible to survive. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to fill the void this leaves.

There are two killing blows, the fees mentioned here apply to non-subscription services, subscription services have to be negotiated separately and the second is the fees are back date-able to 1998 making the successful, long term stations the hardest hit. With the shock of Internet radio stations being turned off now and not waiting until 1 September, 2002 when the actual rates become effective, they hope to force the listeners to take action by contacting their representative urging them to act.

Sadly the most recent ruling and apparent conclusion don’t do anyone any favours long term. A broad and vital source of exposure to different types of music has been halted.

I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Internet radio, it’s just that the choice we will be given will be significantly limited – diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the Internet.