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Project Barcelona peeves the freetards

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Feature The outgoing Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, recently announced plans for Project Barcelona, a download store for material from the BBC archives.

At the moment, you can watch most BBC programmes for seven days after broadcast, free of charge using iPlayer. In a few cases, a whole series may be available for a little longer. But after that initial catch-up window, it disappears. If you want a copy after that, you’ll have to wait until the DVD comes out, or buy a download from a store like Apple’s iTunes store.

There are a few other stores that have BBC content, but between them what’s on offer still adds up to a tiny fraction of all the material that the BBC has in its archives. There’s a wealth of material that people remember fondly which has never found its way to VHS or DVD, let alone download stores.

Project Barcelona will, hopefully, make much more of this available. And with its knowledge of the programmes, the BBC can provide much more interesting ways to navigate the content than you find on, say, iTunes.

But why bother?

Over on the Which Conversation blog, they’ve asked the question “would you pay to download BBC programmes?” and a surprising number of people have selected “No” as their answer.

We’ve all - or most of us, at any rate - paid for the BBC, right? So why the heck should we pay to download programmes. They’re ours, aren’t they? We own the BBC, we pay for it, so we own the things it makes. If you have a TV licence, then you should get a code that validates you to play any content you like, whenever you like.

That’s an appealing argument. It appears clear and simple to understand. Thanks to some of the bizarre actions of BBC management over the years, it’s no surprise that there are people who are so thoroughly exasperated with the Corporation they’d love to get back some of the money they’ve put in.

The fact is, though you may pay your licence fee, and that does indeed fund the BBC, you don’t own the material. We may, in theory, own the BBC collectively, just as we could be said to have once owned British Telecom collectively. But that didn’t stop the government selling it to some of us all over again. Nor does owning shares in BT mean you can just borrow one of its vans when you fancy.

The ownership of creative work is very seldom absolute – there are lots of people involved, including writers, directors, actors and more. All of them will have contracts, and in many cases, those contracts will long predate internet downloads. In some, they’ll even predate the idea of home video sales.

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