‘Free’ content doesn’t mean free content

I had a call from Lloyd Davis last week when BBC London wanted to use one of his video clips. You can see it on his blog here, and also here. Lloyd was happy to help but – naturally and quite rightly, in my view – he wanted payment. Not a fortune, just a fair commercial rate for broadcast use. Trouble was, he wasn’t sure what to charge.
I’m not surprised. Brokering deals with the mainstream media is hard, particularly when you don’t have inside knowledge – as is the case with nearly everybody. But it’s also hard for the buyer, who would much prefer a one-click licensing channel than having to negotiate directly with non-professional photographers and film-makers.
This was one of the drivers behind Scoopt, which sits between punter and press to connect the dots. It works fine when people send their pictures and videos to the agency on an exclusive basis because they care more about a potential sale than self-publishing.
But for people familiar with blogs, photo-sharing sites and other social media tools, losing the right to publish your own content is a deeply unnatural step. Lloyd posted his video on his own blog to share it with his readers. It seems entirely reasonable, does it not, that he should still be able to charge a fair price when his content is used commercially? The BBC had no problem with this.
However, this is where the bridge between citizen journalism and the mainstream media gets wobbly. The traditional agency model was built on having exclusive access to content, and managing rights on that basis. When somebody sticks a pic on Flickr or a video on Blip, the model breaks. It is difficult for an agency to license content for $$$ when anybody can lift it from the public domain for free (conveniently ignoring copyright on the grounds that… well, who’s going to sue?). It is inconvenient when the content in question is out there in the wild and not an SKU in some internal database. And it instantly turns any content-sharing site into a potential competitor to the agency.
Surely this is absurd. There is no inherent contradiction in pictures, videos, writing and any other content being shared freely on one hand and sold on the other depending entirely on end use i.e. whether the end use is non-commercial or commercial. This is the way it HAS to be if mainstream media is to get its hands on amateur content. Forcing people to make an either/or choice – either send content to an agency and lose the right to publish it on yourself or publish it yourself but lose agency representation – just doesn’t work for the vast majority of pictures and videos.
Or rather it does work for that one-in-a-million super-valuable exclusive news story that really must be carefully rights-managed, but the citizen journalism space is far wider than that.
At Scoopt, we invited Flickr users to tag their pics with keyword ‘scoopt’ for commercial licensing despite having them in the public domain (and there are still over 30,000 scoopt-tagged pics on there today despite pulling this project a year ago). We also worked with Creative Commons on their early experiment with dual licensing, whereby a CC license would govern non-commercial rights as now but click through to an appointed agency for commercial rights.
This is precisely the kind of license that Lloyd needs for his video. Creative Commons is still heading down this route [PDF link] with its CC+ initiative, and very good luck to them. Simple, painless dual-licensing has to be the way forward for everybody concerned.