Digital Content – by anyone for everyone?

Artistic content and practice is going online en masse in May.

The Space has announced the 53 digital commissions that will go online between May and October this year. #thespacearts is a pop up platform that will provide interactive, engaging arts content online, on connected TV and on tablets and mobile to coincide with the Olympics and Cultural Olympiad. The Space is a £3.5m joint project between Arts Council England and BBC, and you can find out a little about all the commissions, which I’ll be really excited to see!

Its interesting that the competition, like NESTA’s £0.5m Digital R&D fund competition in England, was massively oversubscribed. 750 Expressions of Interest were submitted to ACE (490+ were submitted to NESTA), and in total, 61 ACE and NESTA projects in England have been given a chance to develop with £4m shared between them – 1179 have not.
So this is digital content by the chosen few, creating a fabulous showcase for England that will be available globally. But its not content by anyone/any cultural organisation in England for everyone. The sheer numbers of ideas presented to both these competitions proves to me that there is great hunger for digital development opportunities across the broad cultural sector, and that the cultural sector understands the opportunities for increasing reach, scale, impact and legacy that digitising content encourages. However, the organisational development and artistic development support programmes (that in the past would have been funded by the public sector) that would have supported digital development across artistic, operation and business practices in every and any organisation in the sector have gone. ACE report, in their press release about The Space, that previously, c. 4% of their regularly funded organisations were considered sophisticated digital content producers, and these investments have been made to improve that. However, 61 successful awards out of 1240 applications is 4.9% – a 22.5% uplift on the previous scenario – but not a huge growth in capability and capacity in the sector overall, despite the investment of c. £4m.

This is not a UK-wide trend – Creative Scotland has supported the national digital development programme for any Scottish arts, heritage or cultural organisation - AmbITion Scotland for 2012-14 (designed and delivered by Rudman Consulting in partnership with Culture Sparks), as well as supporting NESTA Scotland’s Digital R&D Fund and Culture Hack activity with c. £1.5m funding invested. It’s this kind of funding – of an ecology of opportunities – that will truly advance digital development in the arts – supporting the organisations that are already good at digital to do more raises aspiration and inspires, but does not strengthen the ability of the whole sector.

National Theatre Scotland are producing Five Minute Theatre again for 2012, following its huge interactive, participative success (the production won a CATS award for Best Technical Production) when it launched in 2011 (then co-produced by Hannah Rudman as an Envirodigital project). This is digital content for everyone by everyone – its not exclusive, and it puts digital production tools and opportunity into the hands of individual and group performers throughout Scotland. See how you can get involved this year by following #fiveminutetheatre and expect more news here as the production emerges.

John Wyver of Illuminations reviews the progress of The Space here in August 2012. Interesting to see ACE’s significant ongoing support of the project (and of the NESTA Digital R&D Fund in England), despite its current lack of openness to any and every English arts organisation; accessibility; and audience participation and engagement tools.

Meanwhile, the arts organisations whose work is on The Space have given their IP and copy rights to the project for its pilot duration (until October).  The July 2012 results of the Digital Copyright Consultation Copyright works streamlining copyright licensing for the digital age, by Richard Hooper and Dr Ros Lynch, recommend the introduction of a copyright registry. This is of particular interest to rights holders because currently, only patents and trademarks can be registered. Says Hooper:

“There is a strong move in the world for this registry. If you want to battle infringement, then it is important to be able to register copyright and the hub will be the place to register such a right; the registry will not be mandatory. So far, people have been very interested in this… Rightsholders will probably pay a fee to register copyright in the hub, otherwise it will be difficult to see how we could keep the hub going. There is tremendous support around the idea.”

There are two main recommendations from the report. The first is the creation of a UK-based copyright hub that focuses on “high volume of automatable, low monetary value transactions”. (The second is a steering group, to drive the creation of the hub forward and to ensure its profile and interrelationship with other nations.)

One can only hope that English cultural rights holders have the chance to secure their rights in the copyright hub, otherwise the arts will yet again be in the position of giving up their rights in order to secure a place on a digital channel they are told has a wider and larger audience than their own. In a digital age of course, anyone can have their own channel to their audiences, and so keep the revenue generating potential of their rights for themselves. Surely it is more economically sustainable for a cultural organisation producing digital media to be in a position where they can sell licenses to the BBC and other broadcasters/publishers/networks.

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