Abstract

In 2017, HG Wells’ War of the Worlds copyright will expire (as will his other works). Less than three weeks later, a brand new film sequel will be released. The team behind this sequel have been well aware of the forthcoming copyright expiry and have planned ahead to make the most of the opportunity. Meanwhile, the British Library’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition and pop-up shop has outperformed all expectations. This shows the extraordinary inspirational potential of out of copyright materials, of which the BL of course has an outstanding collection. This project aims to brings together and showcases:

• The BIPC’s expertise in matters of copyright

• The BL’s visual digital archives

• The BL’s other wide-ranging archives and the literary legacy which it protects.

By creating a database of out-of-copyright materials and providing a five-year ‘countdown’ to those works whose copyright is about to expire. The database would be used by writers/artists, cultural institutions (ranging from the BBC and similar organisations to museums wishing to celebrate certain works) and businesses, to create both new cultural artefacts/media and new commercial products.

The database would begin with literary works including illustrations but could be expanded to include other cultural works such as film, art and music. For each item/author, it would have a brief overview of any key copyright issues, a visual representation and a list of key works.
The research question you are trying to answer

How to use both the precious materials of the archives/digital archives and showcase the BL’s staff expertise to create a resource which can be used to create future cultural and commercial content, drawing more users to the BL and leading those users to new areas of the BL? How to give creators and businesses clear information on public domain works? The Intellectual Property Office wrote a paper on this topic in 2015, entitled Copyright and the Value of the Public Domain in which they said that such access was highly desirable and had currently only been done in a case-by-case, ad hoc way. (Paper available if requested).
Please explain the extent and way your idea will showcase British Library digital content

This will showcase the extraordinary range of archival material the BL holds, the visual digital archives and the BIPC’s expertise in copyright. It would draw attention to the BL’s holdings, create new cultural and commercial content and encourage more people to draw on the BIPC’s expertise.
Please detail the approach(es) / method(s) you are going to use to implement your idea, detailing clearly the research methods

The needs are to create a simple and searchable database and to then populate it using the expertise of the BL staff. The project could have an initial ‘soft’ launch showcasing particularly interesting materials (the classics) and the ‘future countdown’. It could then continue to be updated and completed over time, adding more materials and eventually broadening the scope to encompass other works which the BL protects. Its complexity comes not from the technical requirements but from the expertise of the staff required – which in itself would be a wonderful showcase of the BL’s resources: its people as well as its archives.
Please provide evidence how you / your team have the skills, knowledge and expertise to successfully carry out the project by working with the British Library

I am currently the Writer in Residence in the BIPC. I have worked in business for over 15 years: developing new products and mentoring entrepreneurs. I am also a writer of both fiction and non-fiction and have multiple personal contacts within the TV and art areas. I therefore have a good understanding of what all these different areas might require from such a database. I know that the BIPC has great expertise in copyright and additional external contacts to draw on if necessary. The only additional skills required would be the database, but I believe this could be sourced or created internally. It is also possible that a media body might wish to sponsor such a database.
Please provide evidence of how you think your idea is achievable on a technical, curatorial and legal basis* Indicate the technical, curatorial and legal aspects of the idea (you may want to check with Labs team before submitting your idea first)

Technical: Relatively simple database

Curatorial: ongoing inputting from the BL team and visual archives

Legal: Copyright team to broadly advise on each entry

Please provide a brief plan of how you will implement your idea by working with the Labs team

June 2016
Lay out basic template for the database and agree input by copyright team and BL ongoing. Test with 50 different entries to see that it works, both very old and those about to change in the next 5 years.

July 2016
Begin data entry using available data focusing on classics (wikipedia, death records, archives, etc.)
August 2016
Begin mining BL archives for more obscure entries.

September 2016
Continue mining archives

October 2016
Finalise and soft launch the database, in particular targeting BIPC users and media/writing outlets. Perhaps work in tandem with the BBC to choose some upcoming items to use. The database will be incomplete when launched and will continue to be added to from the archives until complete, after which it will be a ‘going forward’ annual task to identify deaths of writers and illustrators and add them to the database. It may later be broadened to make wider use of the archives.