Britdoc rocs


On my way home from Oxford and that annual documentaries jamboree that is the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation‘s Britdoc Festival.

I was on the panel of a lively session called Steal This Film about the future of Intellectual Property Rights (if there is one) and the impact of peer-to-peer file-sharing on funding creativity in film and television.

Refereeing was Britdoc meisterin Jess Search of said British Documentary Film Foundation and Shooting People.

In the red corner, Jamie King (Dr JJ King to his friends), a prime-mover of Steal This Film, an internet documentary about sharing films you neither made nor invested in (financially or in kind). I jest, it’s actually a good provocation about very important cultural, creative and business issues – and he is to be admired for taking the brickbats so doggedly for raising perfectly legitimate issues as points of principle. 1.85M people have viewed the film in 12-18 months. It has netted, in JK’s estimate, £16k.

In the blue corner Eddie from FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) of Knock-off Nigel fame.

Sandwiched between was Guy Avshalom, Head of Legal and Business Affairs at Lionsgate Films (formerly Redbus – a link between our careers as the broadband video outfit I set up with partners before turning gamekeeper at Channel 4 was backed by Redbus Investments too) and Yours Truly.

My main issue with Dr Jamie’s theories about filesharing is that they are a bit on the black and white side – everything should be free vs the corporations rob us all.

As he spoke, he reminded me of Mrs T. Thatcher emptied the mentally ill onto the streets and then tried to put in place ‘care in the community’. Jamie seems to want to dismantle IPR-based business models and then figure out how to finance creativity. Having run 4Talent/Ideasfactory at Channel 4 for four years I’m a bit obsessed with creatives in whatever discipline making a viable living and emerging creative companies thriving.

At the Other Annual Documentary Festival which shall not be named, the day I spoke there last November the front page of the FT announced that Google UK would earn more advertising revenue than Channel 4 in 2007 and than our biggest commercial broadcaster ITV around 2009. So as all that cash gets syphoned off out of the country and the parasitic business models of YouTube and the like invest big fat zero in content, talent nurturing and supplier corporate development, the question is who steps in to fill the gap when the broadcasters can’t afford it any more? Who helps the next Ricky Gervaises get from flawed series 1 of The Office to the classic series 2? I can’t really see why Dr K doesn’t focus his very evident creative thinking and energy on new ways of funding creativity properly rather than on how to take apart the old. There’s room for more than just black and white in a complex world in rapid transition. Guy seemed very open to new commercial models for the film business and even Eddie acknowledged the need for new approaches to IPR in this emerging digital age.

The logic of that diversion of ad revenue coupled with that failure to invest in creative content and talent is that ultimately we all get to watch more cats on skateboards and mentoes in coke bottles. (Top of Google Video as I write: “This is a funny video about a hipo and his dog“.) The irony of Steal This Film is that the only stuff you’d want to steal in a longish 32 minutes is the Hollywood movie clips. It’s a good summary of the issues with not so good narrative skills. It is populated almost exclusively with the type of white 20ish males who would get off on this, like the 7 people who watched it yesterday on YouTube.

In spite of the lively exchanges around all of the above, there seemed a broad optimism in the room – the auditorium of The Phoenix Cinema, which looks like it must be the sister of my beloved Phoenix in East Finchley, the oldest purpose built cinema in the UK (where I do a bit of pro bono work). Optimism about the opportunities networked digital technology and a more creative approach to IPR promise. The Phoenix in East Finchley was built in 1910. Whether I’ll be able to enjoy films there like Guy’s title The Lives of Others in 2010 or 2015 will depend on resurrecting viable business models for rewarding individual creatives from the ashes of the models which no longer compute in this on-demand, networked, two-way era. We’d better sort out our creative community care before we chuck professional creators out on the street or we’ll all be watching more cats and mentoes. What does happen when you put a pussy in pepsi?

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