Creative Commons for German Public TV Could Save Costs, Archives


German public TV and the Some Rights Reserved content licenses by Creative Commons don’t seem to be a natural mix.

Then again, maybe they do.

As NDR, one of Germany’s regional public TV stations, proved by putting some shows under Creative Commons, open licenses and public TV may be a pretty good match indeed. (This goes both ways: During production of pieces, for example by using Creatice Commons music, and to license the TV shows.)

(For the US-Americans of you: Public TV plays a very different role in the media landscape in Germany than it does in the US. Like, people actually watch it, and it’s good stuff.)

At re:publica, Chief Editor of NDR Online Jürgen Werwinski shared the broadcaster’s experiences with going Creative Commons. Despite quite a bit of internal resistance (or rather: unfamiliarity with the subject), the station hasn’t regretted taking the steps towards to licensing their content more freely. After all, all the content is paid for by public funds, and making the content accessible is part of the public stations’ legal mission. (At, Markus Beckedahl has been asking for more Creative Commons-licensed coverage for a long time.)

To stress my point of how important freely licensed content from public stations is, let me share a story that a friend told me. She works for public TV, where she’s an editor for a kids news program, Logo. The show is great, and also technically up to date, they even offer all the shows as a video podcast. Yet, the archive only goes about a week back, then disappears.

Of course, the shows don’t get deleted (I assume), but they aren’t accessible from the outside anymore. This is, to a large extent, due to the background and atmo music used in the news pieces: The music licenses only cover online use for a week or so, after that extra licensing fees would be due. Of course, the stations can’t just go on and keep paying ever-growing amounts of licensing fees of public funds, so they hide the archives. Effectively, this destroys these huge amounts of great shows which would be a priceless knowledge base for kids and teachers.

For obvious reasons, Creative Commons or similar licenses would help solve this issue single-handedly. Depending on the exact license, the music is available free of monetary costs, i.e. the stations wouldn’t have to pay at all; All they would have to to is credit the works, and – again, depending on the license – also license their content for external use. (More about share-alike licenses here, German version here.)

This, of course, is a highly political decision: Do we really want to give up a little bit of control, open up, and allow people out there to distribute our content freely?

My take? Yes, yes, and yes.

That’s not because I’m an info anarchist. (I’m not!)

Creative Commons make perfect rational sense for the public TV stations to use to fulfill their mission.

Why is that? First of all, Creative Commons licenses make it easy for viewers (users? citizens?) to share the content they like. This has both a valuable social aspect and helps the stations distribute their content more cost-efficiently. More reach, better distribution, easier and more wide-spread access.

Second, if you allow viewers to use and endorse this publicly funded content, it increases the feeling of ownership. That’s a key issue for public education.

Third, Creative Commons allows for fairly granular control of what you want to allow to do with your content. (An overview of the available licenses here.) For example, you could allow non-commercial use only, or also allow commercial use. (Non-commercial probably being the right way to go in this particular case.) Also, while allowing to remix your shows is pretty darn awesome, it’s understandable that institutions like public TV stations wouldn’t be comfortable with remixed versions of their content, so they could settle for non-derivative use, i.e. a no-remix license. Only the show as such may be redistributed, no changes allowed. This is particularly important if you’re worried about your stuff being used out of context.

Fourth, it’s free advertisement, as every show needs to be credited to the original creator.

Fifth, and most importantly, without the licensing fees you get an ever-growing archive of shows and knowledge that you don’t have to take offline anytime, ever.

And sixth, not having to pay licensing fees means saving a lot of money. This money can then be spent on furthering the cause of spreading knowledge and fulfilling public TV’s legal mission.

Of course, there are downsides as well.

First, in day-to-day work, editors often pick music more or less by association: If you deal with a certain topic and a song just comes to mind, this song it is. (Example? It’s a piece on the end of the school year, so School’s Out by Alice Cooper it is.) This works well and is easy to do because we all have a common base of pop cultural references we grew up with. Most Creative Commons songs haven’t reached this kind of popularity, they simply haven’t been around long enough. (Keep in mind that CC have been around for less than a decade.)

Second, this very mechanism (or lack thereof) also means that it takes longer to pick songs, simply because the editor has to go through a lot of songs to find some stuff they see fit.

However, these problems seem to be temporary – once the mechanisms are in place and editors get more familiar with what’s out there, speed picks up. Also, more and more songs become available as I’m typing this. There’s no inherent reason not to switch to a different policy here.

Who can change this policy?

Now the tricky part is who to talk to about this. As I see it, there are two main arguments you could make to convince the stations to switch to Creative Commons licenses, both for their own content and the music they use:

First, the mission statement argument: Creative Commons can help the stations fulfill their missions as best as they can by making access to their publicly funded contents easier. We’re talking distribution and archives here.

Second, the cost argument: Without horrendous music licensing fees, the shows can be produced with the same level of quality but for less money, making a more cost-efficient alternative. The savings can be used to either produce more stuff or to experiment with new formats, both of which the stations have inherent and legitimate interest in.

So where are the economists out there to crunch the numbers? Who’s got the ear of the decision-makers? This is something we all should be interested in. I’m very interested in personally, and I could imagine some of you are, too. Get in touch?

About the author

Peter Bihr
By Peter Bihr