UN Chronicle - Open Access and Closed Minds: Balancing Intellectual Property and Public Interest in the Digital Age
"Nearly a decade ago, South Africa based British documentary producer Neil Curry made an extraordinary film, The Elephant, the Emperor and the Butterfly Tree about the complex ecosystem around Africa’s mopane woodland. This engaging tale won many awards in leading environmental and natural history film festivals. Having spent several months in Botswana researching and filming the story, Neil wanted to take the film back to where it was shot. He knew that the wildlife parks and schools in the area could use the film to educate the local people and visitors. However, there was one problem: the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Natural History Unit, which had funded the film and thus owned the copyright, would not share it. For two years, Neil’s request for a single DVD copy for use in Botswana was passed around within its bureaucracy until he gave up.1 This is not an isolated incident, and the BBC is not the only culprit. Every year, vast amounts of public or philanthropic funds are spent on making hundreds of documentaries and TV programmes on various environmental, development and social issues. These are typically aired a few times; some are also screened at film festivals or released on DVD. Most are locked up in broadcast archives and never seen again. That is such a missed opportunity. Many factual films have a long shelf life and can be very useful in education, advocacy and training, especially in the developing world where such resources are scarce. But the broadcast industry—in both the global North and South—has no culture of sharing. Even when individuals are eager to let their creations be used widely, institutional policies often stand in the way. Communicating for social change is an incremental process. Despite television being the world’s most pervasive medium, broadcasts alone cannot accomplish this. Our experience in developing Asia shows that narrowcast outreach in classrooms and other small groups is often more effective. However, clearing non-broadcast rights -is a major struggle... In September 2006, at the United Nations Fifty-ninth Annual DPI/NGO Conference in New York, I urged all broadcasters—public and commercial—to let go of their development related television content after initial airing, and to allow educational and civil society groups access to their archives. I proposed that broadcasters treat poverty and development as a ‘copyrights free zone’ ..."