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Industry Report: Distribution and exhibition

Digitisation and Online Exploitation of Broadcasters’ Archives


- The BBC’s recent announcement on next year’s launch of the new global iPlayer hosting content from other UK broadcasters demonstrates the continuing commercial value of television archives. Clearly, nostalgia is big business in terms of television entertainment. Indeed, programmes using archive footage from the 1940s onwards – the birth of broadcasting - continue to rack up decent audience ratings, whether they be serious historical documentaries or more populist programmes. One would have imagined that the technical possibilities of digitisation would have allowed Europe’s television archives to free up access to their wealth of material to the general public and film makers for the greater good of all. However the twin obstacles of financial and logistical means, on the one hand, and copyright considerations on the other, mean that this process has not been as problem-free as one may have imagined. Digitisation and content offered on line clearly raise a whole new challenge in terms of copyright legislation.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

The European Audiovisual Observatory, part of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, has just published a new IRIS Special report:

Digitisation and Online Exploitation of Broadcasters’ Archives

which examines current challenges to television archives in the digital era of online content. The report is the fruit of a workshop co-organised in April of this year by the Observatory and its partner organisation, the Amsterdam-based Institute for Information Law (IViR).

Adrian Sterling of the University of London opens the report by recommending that “collecting societies should establish a global internet licensing agency to which prospective users of protected material on the Internet […] can apply for the necessary global licences without territorial restriction”.

The report then allows various representatives of major European archives to present their systems and working methods. Austria’s ORF, for example, only employs qualified lawyers to enter the extremely complex rights-related information on its archives into its centralised database. The Dutch Institute for Sound and Vision functions via the so-called Archive Agreement: a document signed by “practically all parties involved in audiovisual production and in the clearing of copyright and related rights”. This unique document gives the Institute a legal greenlight for the reproduction and communication to the public of copyrighted works within the framework of its archival, educational and cultural functions in the digital era. The BBC’s iPlayer supplying an extensive on-demand catch-up service clearly represents a major challenge in this context. Rob Kirkham of the BBC states that almost 70 new licensing agreements were signed between the BBC and various right-holders’ bodies during the development period of the iPlayer.

The particular issue of music rights in the online exploitation of television archives is then examined by Munich-based lawyer, Stefan Ventroni.

Dealing with the thorny problem of territorial restrictions on copyright, Bernt Hugenholtz of the IViR points out that television archives wishing to offer their holdings on line have to clear rights covering some 27 states, clearly “a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis their main competitors outside the EU”. In examining possible solutions, Hugenholtz mentions the possibility of multiterritorial licensing which would allow broadcasters to simulcast via Internet primary broadcasts for which only local rights have been cleared. He states, however, that “a truly structural and consistent solution, which would immediately remove all copyright-related territorial obstacles to the creation of a single market, would be the introduction of a unified European Copyright Law”.

The report concludes by looking at cross-border exploitation of archives on line from a political and economic point of view, but also from the standpoint of the rights holders. Harald Trettenbrein of the EU Commission’s DG InfoSoc underlines the Commission’s commitment to a Single Digital Market and adds that “the simple internal market logic that should be applied to all kinds of products and services with regard to these specific “cultural services” is reinforced by potential gains in cultural diversity and media pluralism.” Cécile Despringre of the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA), on the other hand, disputes the utility of, for example, single European copyright legislation. She rather favours the EBU’s proposition of finding solutions that would allow for a “one-stop shop” for rights acquisition, based on a strong role of the collective management societies.


in this industry report


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