In an uncomfortable effort by Auntie to be cool, the BBC Creative Archive project has launched under the banner of “Find it. Rip it. Mix it. Share it.” The project web site enthusiastically proclaims: “In other words, you can rip, mix and share the BBC.”

The Creative Archive is billed as a BBC led initiative to provide access to public service audio and video archives in a way that allows the British public to find, share, watch, listen and re-use the archive as a fuel for their own creative endeavours. Whether it will be enough to keep the kids amused remains to be seen.

The BBC will initially only be making available a hundred hours of material from natural history and factual programmes, although there is a commitment to add extracts from other genres in the future.

The initiative is based on the concept of creative commons, but it looks like the BBC lawyers have got involved. The licence is limited to use within the United Kingdom, which would technically appear to preclude publication on the World Wide Web, which could prove something of a limitation for this broadband initiative. The BBC also reserves the right to change the terms of the licence at any time.

Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, said: “The Creative Archive Licence provides a unique solution to one of the key challenges of rights in the digital age, allowing us to increase the public value of our archives by giving people the chance to use video and audio material for their own non-commercial purposes.”

The Creative Archive has also received the enthusiastic support of none less than former film producer Lord Puttnam.

Speaking at the launch of the project, Lord Puttnam said he needed no persuading that the Creative Archive was an idea whose time has come. He admitted to having survived a switchover from the world of the fountain pen to become very comfortable with the web, and revealed that he had downloaded hundreds of tracks for this iPod.

The key to capitalizing on the online opportunity, he suggested, lay in delivering compelling content that plays to the specific strengths of the online world.
While enormous energy was being devoted to protecting intellectual property rights online, he said, the obsessive focus on the threat has continued to blind many to the opportunity.

“The commercial music industry has already paid a high price for that,” he said. “The public sector cannot afford to make the same mistake.” At stake are not just revenues, but the chance to enhance and enrich the lives of citizens.
As a former film producer, Lord Puttnam said he believed in the sanctity of the creators’ rights, but had long been interested in exploring a generous regime for sharing access to archive material as a catalyst for creative collaboration and learning.

He said that when public resources have been used to create content, then the overwhelming objective should be to maximise the benefit of that content to the people who helped pay for its creation in the first place.

The availability of the equivalent of “clip art” for video would help teach creative skills and develop “media literacy” and actually help people understand the value of intellectual property.

Quoting Thomas Edison, an inventor that understood the value of protecting his intellectual property rights, he noted that Edison had originally seen the educational possibilities of moving pictures. “I had some glowing dreams about what the camera could be made to do and ought to do in teaching the world things it needed to know – teaching it in a more vivid, direct way,” Edison had said.

Lord Puttnam ended by adding that “The principles upon which the Creative Archive is based are fundamental to our future”. The opportunity is enormous, he said. “It requires energy, vision and imagination to seize it.”

Although the venture has invoked the support of Channel 4, the Open University and the British Film Institute, the BBC is clearly keen to maintain its association with the pilot project, which has its web site hosted as subdomain of the BBC web site.