Ben Green led the rights negotiation strategy and implementation for industry-leading ‘blanket licence’ agreements between the BBC and some key third party film archives.
One of the trickiest (and sometimes most expensive) contributions to clear rights in when making TV programmes, is third party film footage. Of course there may be many copyright holders within the actual footage itself, but licensing the footage in the first place can be complex. The rare or exclusive nature of some footage can, effectively, make it ‘priceless’ with the rights owner fiercely protecting its value and use.
Some of the larger film libraries, which regularly licensed clips of their archive to the major broadcasters to include in their programme commissions, saw the benefit of exploring a new kind of licensing model. Both broadcasters and the film libraries were keen to reduce overheads in terms of the (then) transactional nature of licensing. Previously, if a producer wanted to license a brief film clip, it took the researcher and clearance team a huge amount of time to source the correct clip, call or e-mail the library and explain the use, agree to the licence terms, pay the licence fee, take delivery of the tape / file, etc., before it could be used in the edit. So there were lots of ‘hand-offs’, time wasted, and staff to employ (on both sides) to make that process work.
There had to be a better way.
Coming out of the BBC’s ‘Project TOO’ strategy (‘Touch Once Only’: the aim of putting in place the terms and/or mechanism to agree with rights-holders any future rights which may arise, so that once the contract had initially been signed there was no further need to keep handling it to re-interpret), we had explored the potential of some trial agreements with the largest film archives to remove the transactional nature of the deals. But initial conversations were difficult – blanket agreements were viewed as potentially damaging the archive’s traditional licensing model and revenue flow. Some film libraries also highlighted parts of their catalogue that would be excluded from any blanket deal, due to some underlying rights-holder restrictions. Clearly we weren’t going to find a silver-bullet…
After some considerable work analysing the cost-benefit of staff savings (once the transactions had been removed), versus the financial security of the archive receiving regular payments instead of through piecemeal, ad hoc invoices, the appetite to talk about a trial blanket deal was growing. In addition to cost-savings, there was the over-riding wish to make things simpler, and we held up our aim (if possible) to replicate some of the Music Blanket arrangements and methodologies. Once the terms were agreed, the broadcaster and programme maker would have the certainty of use and the rights agreed upfront, and the archive owner had the certainty of income and rights being licensed. No individual, transactional negotiations would be required. Naturally there was some to-ing and fro-ing over certain (very understandable) caps and restrictions of use for the blanket, but the strong will of both sides carried the first couple of trial agreements through, and then further ones followed not long after.
The agreements were implemented some time ago now and will, of course, be reviewed by both parties at regular intervals to assess their on-going use and value. It is very much hoped that they will be extended or renewed, and continue to be used: – there are clearly benefits all round, and they represent a very modern type of legitimate licensing model which genuinely makes life easier for the programme producer(s) sourcing film archive. With the high cost of television production, simpler, legitimate rights deals can only be a good thing for the creative industry as a whole.
N.B. The Case Study above represents both personal views and general historic facts surrounding the project. For the avoidance of doubt, these views are not those of the BBC or other organisations referred to, nor do they represent any endorsement (actual or implied) by the BBC or other organisation of Ben Green Associates Limited.