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Next Steps

In the final sessions of the conference, participants agreed that public broadcasting had already entered the Open Content environment, defining Open Content as a continuum that extends from streaming programs (for Frontline and WGBH Teachers Domain, as examples), to soliciting viewer participation in content (at Radio Open Source), to offering archival materials to audiences to use and share (Teachers Domain, WGBH Lab Sandbox), to other uses still to be discovered and implemented. The cumulative effect of these different initiatives is important.

We still have to remember, one of the roles in public media is that we have a megaphone. We still can create those events, whether it’s looking at the stars or understanding Native American history, those galvanizing moments, that event that says, “Here’s something you may not have known about or paid attention to. Come, have this first experience with it.”

(Curtis Wong, Microsoft)


The biggest challenge is that you actually go out there and make this content, and you make it completely wonderful and useful... Making these forms of digital content available, even when it’s experimental, even when it’s a Sandbox, or even when it’s in the context of a limited Teacher’s Domain right now at WGBH, I think that’s an extremely important driver toward changing the law.

(John Palfrey, Harvard University)


The group discussed a series of specific next steps that would be helpful. Some felt that education-based and archive-based Open Content initiatives would be the projects to start with; other suggested this would be only a small, first step.

It may be easiest to come in through the education door, take our first Open Content steps in education. The Internet doesn’t need us, but people need quality, vetted materials, and we can provide this. So we should think about how to extend the compulsory license or however to reach to new platforms.

(Andrew Russell)

If we could offer the public an archive from all the stations, that would be tremendous. Other initiatives are more for smaller audiences. This would be a national one. At the BBC they have decided to digitize a million hours. This is one of the most crucial things we could do.

(Alison Smith, WGBH)

The main challenge, I think, for public broadcasting is to find ways to use its expertise, the enormous trust, and the fundraising capabilities to build on and provide platforms for peer production of public discourse, of education. Open Content understood as digitization and making available the existing content is part of that, but needs to be understood as part of, seeding that, as opposed to, “That’s the project.” Digitization of archives is important, expensive, hard, but transitional. The core problem is building platforms and the materials.

(Yochai Benkler, Yale University)


There was a clear appetite for new and broader efforts to institutionalize Open Content through local and national public broadcasting projects.

In every gathering (like [PBS] Showcase or development conferences), we should have a portion of time dedicated to this and related topics. Also for stations, we should try to model some of these things, do initiatives as examples or case histories.... We need to think about what we can do for experiments and initiatives... There is content that is currently cleared, enough to get our feet wet. We need local initiatives also. Some of the large, “impossible dream” projects will take a long time, but to the extent we have the WGBH Lab or local initiatives in partnerships with libraries, museums, etc., there are possibilities to move more quickly. We will try to provide forums for these.

(John Boland)

We have grants for digitization for 6-7,000 programs so now they’re protected, but we have no way to use it. We would love to make them available for teachers, but don’t have funding or mechanism to have teachers identify what content are or how applied. We would love to see wiki models so teachers could start to develop this, wade into the content. It’s just been sitting there for 30 years. So, help in getting tools identified and deployed would be great.

(Mike Clark, Kentucky ETV)

The combination of system support and high-level leadership was identified as critical.

How can we make it cool to use the public domain? How can we make it cool to use Open Content?

(Rick Prelinger, Prelinger Archives)


I know you have enough things to do already, but I really wish we heard more from NPR, PBS, et cetera, in entering the copyright debate, not just to get exceptions or limitations that benefit public media, but in terms of dealing with the architecture more generally, because that’s going to be the ecosystem in which you’re embedded. Stuff is going to be washing in and washing out of your shows. It is to your advantage that both our copyright culture and our copyright laws be somewhat more rational. And a lot of it is the culture. It’s the culture of fear. And what you need is someone to say, “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course it’s a Fair Use.”

(James Boyle)


I would plead for leadership somewhere, so not everyone has to try to do it on their own. And not get stuck in the mode of “that’s the Newshour” and “that’s NOVA,” respecting those names as valuable but going beyond what we see them as, which is discrete Web sites and hours. National has the carrot and also the stick to herd the cats in this room -- and involve people who are not in this room.

(Lee Banville, NewsHour)

I see Open Content as part of our larger audience engagement efforts, in education, content. I keep hearing tiers as the way to think about our work, understanding the relation between profession and amateur. The professional will distinguish us, it’s nothing to move away from; but we also should find ways to bring in other voices. That’s where funders and leadership at the national level will help us understand its broader application and risk.

(Marita Rivero, WGBH)

We need to be the evangelists, and we need to get the system behind us, because there are people out there that are really doing interesting, creative work in the media.

(Paula Kerger, PBS)


Finally, there were a series of cautions about moving too quickly, suggesting that more discussions would be needed to enable some parts of public broadcasting to embrace Open Content.

The case for public television has always been clear, it goes right to people’s hearts. But I’m not sure we know what we bring to it that others don’t. Wikipedia doesn’t need us. Social democratization doesn’t need public television. We need to ask this so we know why we have to do whatever it is.

(Josh Nathan, WNET)

I would observe that things are moving quickly. When we first tried registration at WGBH Radio, people stopped listening. Now three years later we will try it again, because registration is standard. So I caution we may have to try this more than once.

(Marita Rivero)

In nature, when you have one of these discontinuous changes that happen periodically, the native and dominant species in the “before” world ignore change at their own peril. And what seemed like some quantitative changes result in qualitative shifts.... So the dilemma for anyone who is an incumbent is, What do you do about this? And the problem is that the success factors, the very things that made one successful previously can now be the causes of failure... Some big implications: the biggest challenge is, over-attachment to old method and mindset threaten survival.

(Mitch Kapor)


Computation, storage, and communications capacity are the three elements in a network environment, the three physical capital elements necessary for a network environment. And every connected person -- somewhere between 600 million and a billion persons now -- has the access to the physical capital necessary to communicate, create, store, and exchange information, knowledge, and culture... What we’re seeing today is decentralized social production emerging as an additional modality of information, knowledge, and cultural production alongside these others. And whenever you have a new model to a production, creating, it affects everything. It changes everyone’s competitive environment. It changes the sort of opportunities. It changes what it is that people want and what they can do... The question I think that is important for PBS to think about is how non-profits do the same thing; how you adjust how you are, and what you do to plug into these materials.

(Yochai Benkler)


NEXT: Conclusions and Recommendations