BFI set to open its catalogue of 10,000 archive films to stream online
October 3, 2012 2:03 AM   Subscribe

BFI set to open its catalogue of 10,000 archive films to stream online Yesterday, the BFI released its five year plan 'film forever' . One of the key points is the development and launch of a BFIPlayer in 2013 which will stream the 10,000 films they aim to digitise by 2017. Other objectives are also outlined in the full plan, such as the money available for British film production rising to £24 milllion p/a.
posted by jamiemch (15 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
To provide online access, we will host a service on that identifies all British works and shows users where they can be viewed – by linking to the digital platforms of individual archives, by displaying links to cinema programmes UK-wide, and linking to DVD catalogues and VoD services. Some titles will be available as paid-for material the public can rent or buy via We will programme BFI-branded channels for adoption across major VoD services. These channels will build on the BFI’s programming expertise and bring together a rich selection of films from different rightsowners including the BFI, and will primarily be driven by the digitised collection of 10,000 British titles. We will also host many titles for free on the BFI’s YouTube channel, significantly increasing the volume of titles available.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but under UK copyright law everything prior to 1962 is now public domain. How about making those items freely available and just sticking them on Bittorrent or similar? Then (for example) my community theatre company can use them to set the scene for a period piece. Other people can repurpose and categorise them. Wikipedia can archive and link them.

Otherwise it's just more stuff that is our common heritage behind a restrictive monetary or legal paywall. And all accomplished with millions of pounds of my tax money.

Forgive my lack of enthusiasm, and it's great that some archived material will be converted to digital and saved. I just see the lost opportunity as well as the good work.
posted by alasdair at 2:55 AM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Well, non-copyright stuff? If needbe I'll start a kickstarter project to buy it once on the BFI site, archive it on a torrent site and host forthwith.
posted by jaduncan at 4:17 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sure the dogs in the manger that are Big Copyright will make sure that any offering is sufficiently crippled by DRM to not have any chance of turning into a threat scenario, much as happened to the BBC's archive.
posted by acb at 4:29 AM on October 3, 2012

The BBC DRM is trivially defeated.
posted by jaduncan at 4:47 AM on October 3, 2012

Many people at the BBC really did their best to open up their archive - what defeated their plans in end wasn't (as I think @abc is implying above) greedily trying to monetize the copyright in their programs. The problem was the vast legal expense of checking every contract and licensing agreement for every program. The problem is that when the programs were made no one thought about things like open archives. As a result almost everything they have is burdened by complex music and other licensing agreements, and fiddly one-off contracts. As an example, one of the producers told me about a Horizon episode he produced - they interviewed a Japanese woman whose son died of AIDs, who agreed to the interview being broadcast only if it was not shown in Japan. That contract (only one of possibly hundreds on that single program alone) would stop it being made available for streaming. A lot of people at the BBC really, really wanted to open up their entire archive but the cost of going through every contract and licensing agreement for every program streamed was just impossible.
posted by silence at 5:54 AM on October 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

Alasdair: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but under UK copyright law everything prior to 1962 is now public domain."

You're completely wrong.
posted by Hogshead at 6:07 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes,but although alasdair does indeed misunderstand the situation due to quirks in licencing some of the archive is free for licence holders to reproduce and some is likely to become available under the forthcoming orphan works rules.
posted by jaduncan at 6:13 AM on October 3, 2012

Merely making them "free" isn't the point. The BFI has done an amazing job in historically placing films in context - the sort of material that can't adequately be represented with a wikipedia page or a .txt file in the torrent's folder.

Like it or not, there is a reason for these cultural institutions to be around. Without them, our culture would be poorer. People who constantly clamour for things to be "free" don't understand the effort it takes to research and maintain a historical database of evidence, and it pisses me right off.
posted by The River Ivel at 6:19 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think your interpretation is uncharitable. Older material should be free to access and institutions like the BFI should be around. No one said otherwise. But just because the Globe does a great job with Shakespeare, this doesn't mean that having free versions of the modernised text or cheap Penguin/Everyman editions isn't worthwhile.
posted by ersatz at 6:59 AM on October 3, 2012

Forgive me, but I think you're thinking of the copyright for the writing/acting/music composition that went into the original broadcast, not the copyright for the actual broadcast/recording, which is different. From the same Wikipedia page:
In the case of a broadcast made after the commencement of the 1956 Act, the copyright in a broadcast programme expires 50 years from the end of the year in which it is broadcast: section 14(2), Copyright Act 1956. Repeating such a broadcast does not extend the period of copyright, whether the repeat is during or after the 50 year copyright period: section 14(3), Copyright Act 1956.
Hence, 1962. If I wrote a script for a programme in 1961 it would still be in copyright, because I'm still alive. But the recording of the performance of the script would be out of copyright in 2011. That's my understanding, not being a lawyer.
posted by alasdair at 8:40 AM on October 3, 2012

I look forward to the day when more and more films are available in streaming format, though. I made a list of classic films I haven't seen and out of the 25 or so titles, only 1 was on Netflix instant.
posted by mattbucher at 9:09 AM on October 3, 2012

Wikipedia is misleading on this point; EU Directive 2006/116/EC states the following:
Article 2

Cinematographic or audiovisual works

1. The principal director of a cinematographic or audiovisual work shall be considered as its author or one of its authors. Member States shall be free to designate other co-authors.

2. The term of protection of cinematographic or audiovisual works shall expire 70 years after the death of the last of the following persons to survive, whether or not these persons are designated as co-authors: the principal director, the author of the screenplay, the author of the dialogue and the composer of music specifically created for use in the cinematographic or audiovisual work.
I can go more into this with caselaw and such if you want, but that's the basic thing.
posted by jaduncan at 9:33 AM on October 3, 2012

Now, the special case here is that the copyrights were often assigned in toto to the BBC; this has an unusual impact in that when the BBC owns all of the rights licence-holders can reproduce the work in certain circumstances.
posted by jaduncan at 9:35 AM on October 3, 2012

Forgive me again, but while the 2006 EU directive might say whatever it says, a quick check doesn't demonstrate where the UK legislation has been amended to reflect that. The Intellectual Property Office for the UK says this:

Copyright in a broadcast expires 50 years from the end of the year of the making of the broadcast.

Ah, now, Googling shows me that the musicians have been able to lobby for an extension from fifty to seventy years of their recordings: that was announced in 2011. Musicians win copyright extension to 70 years.

So I'm sure you're right: should it come to it, the politicians will be successfully lobbied to make sure everything post-war stays in copyright. But - and I'd welcome your links to something otherwise - I think I'm correct in saying that today, broadcast copyright is 50 years.

Gosh, I'm cross now. I think I'll go pirate some music from the 1950s.
posted by alasdair at 11:53 AM on October 3, 2012

It is required to become a change in UK law very soon indeed.

And yes, an audiovisual recording also contains a separate subsidiary copyright for the soundtracks. TV has quite an impressive array of copyrights that attach; there's a reason people have issues clearing rights.
posted by jaduncan at 2:27 PM on October 3, 2012

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