film) has come down though, so a major cost is now the time of the skilled
person who makes the copy.
With the advent of digital media, especially CD and DVD, it is now possible to
make a perfect copy - a clone - with cheap equipment and unskilled labour. This
fact is one of the reasons audiovisual archives have been able to expand access.
The other major technological advance is direct computer-based (web) access.
Legal and administrative
Archives are often closed institutions. Public records are usually accessible,
because they are public data held in public institutions - though even for public
records it is often necessary to attend the physical building in order to search for
material. Public records offices have made great improvements in access with
web sites and online searching of, for instance, census data.8 But archives in
general are either private collections, or if in public hands they are available for
examination only. I cannot go to the Churchill archive and remove documents,
much less get such documents from my local library.
Libraries contain books, which in general are produced in thousands of copies at
relatively low cost. Archives contain unique material - usually the only copy.
Libraries know exactly what they can and cannot do with the books on their
shelves, and the users of libraries know what they can and cannot do. Libraries
lend books and have full legal rights to do so. Users read the books and have no
rights to plagiarise or even photocopy the books, outside definite 'fair use'
clauses in the relevant copyright acts.
Archives often hold material with complex rights. If I did get access to the
Churchill Speeches, I could not publish them in a book - or put them on a
website - without clearance from the owner of the intellectual property. The
issue of not using someone else's intellectual property without permission is,
essentially, a matter as simple and fundamental as not committing theft.
Unfortunately all the ramifications in practice are anything but simple. They
have even led lawyers to claim that reading a web page (not publishing it, but
just reading it!is 'making a copy'.9
A book is commonly the intellectual property of one person. Some have multiple
authors, and some have contributed material such as photographs or diagrams
that may be separately copyrighted. But audiovisual material is usually the
product of many hands, with each of the contributors having specific rights.
The real complexity begins with the fact that identifying the rights holders is
only the beginning. 'Right to do whatP'is the real question. In general even
archives holding detailed rights information only know the rights holders. There
are many possible uses of the material ranging from one viewing in one small
venue to world broadcasting, publishing and internet rights forever. The
consequence is that rights clearance is a process: identifying the owners (or the
agencies who act on behalf of the owners), identifying the use or uses, and
having a negotiation on the price.
Books are (usually) printed by private companies that make their money
through the sales. Libraries are allowed to lend books under legislation (Public
Lending Right), usually combined with some form of payback to the authors
based upon circulation. Audiovisual archives hold material made for public paid
exhibitions (cinema film) or for broadcasting. Any exhibition or re-broadcast
requires rights clearance and, usually, payment. Audiovisual archives are usually
established under national heritage legislation that allows specific types of
access - only. The other major legal constraints are the various copyright acts.
The important issue is that these constraints are subject to interpretation, and
the law itself is subject to revision. We have already noted the elimination of
restrictions on obtaining a British Library Reader's Pass. Several European
countries now provide genuine public access to national audiovisual collections;
the British Library Sound Archive and the Austrian Mediathek are notable
examples - though you still must attend their premises.10 However the majority
of 'public' audiovisual archives restrict access. You have to prove you are serious,
or a registered student, or a resident - and many charge rather high prices.
Changes in Technology
A revolution in access technology has taken place. Millions of people - in fact
the majority of citizens in Europe and North America - now have internet
access.11 In addition, the switch to broadband (high data rate, allowing access to
good quality video) is very rapid - 135% increase across Europe in one year
(04.2002 to 04.2003).12 While the public is moving to broadband online,
heritage institutions are moving in the same direction: providing websites,
moving catalogues online, and moving their collections from analogue to digital
carriers - or onto hard drives which can supply material direct to the internet,
and which have dropped sharply in price.
An anomaly is forming. Public institutions are increasingly aware of their
responsibilities to the general public, and are rushing to provide improved access
- with such innovations as late-evening openings, elimination of access charges,
and of course launching websites that give not only detailed information about
the institution but also often give direct access to catalogues, and increasingly
give direct access to 'digitised collections'. Generally these digitised collections
are scanned books and photographs, or paintings. Relatively small amounts of
film, video and audio are online - from heritage and broadcast archives - and
then more as tasters or samples than as substantial collections. At the same
time, audiovisual material is widely available by internet, and indeed 'electronic
delivery' (download) is competing with, or beating, conventional sale of music
on CD. So while both the public and the heritage/broadcast institutions are
rushing to the web, these institutions are not putting their audiovisual
collections on the web. The biggest single change with respect to audiovisual
collections has been the entire elimination of technological impediments to
direct, universal access. The web technology is there, the public is using it, the
institutions are using it.
The anomaly deepens. Simultaneous with this move to web technology, by all
parties, there have been major investments in digitisation: converting audio,
8 For instance, the UK National Archive www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/
9 Brewster Kahle, talk at the BBC, May 2004.
RICHARD WRIGHT ACCESS TO AUDIOVISUAL ARCHIVES
- NEW METHODS
10 For the British Library Sound Archive see: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/sound.html; for the Austrian
Mediathek see: http://www.mediathek.ac.at/_startseite/start.html