Content Licensing: Why Al Jazeera Chose To Release Some Of Its News Video Content Under A Creative Commons License
During my stay at the International Journalism Festival, which took place in Perugia, Italy, last week, I ran into Donatella Della Ratta of Creative Commons who I had not seen in ages. She was very kind and shared with me a story, which I found immediately interesting and worth some extra coverage. Creative Commons had made a partnership with Al Jazeera and since then it has been releasing some of its own news video material for free (broadcast video quality) to anyone interested, under a full CC license.
Photo credit: Joi - mashed up by Robin Good
Fascinated by the story and supported by Donatella's prompt introduction to Moeed Ahmad, Al Jazeera's head of New Media, I took right away the opportunity to learn the full story in more detail.
I wanted to find out directly from the source, why Al Jazeera had decided to share its own video news material for free, and under a CC license. If Al Jazeera had seen some benefit in it to the point of adopting it, then it may have played an interesting role model.
Here is the story of how Al Jazeera and Creative Commons came to partner, the risks involved and the benefits of taking such a bold, innovative move.
Here's Moeed Ahmad:
Why Al Jazeera Licenses Content Under Creative Commons
Duration: 3' 28''
Full English Text Transcription
Moeed Ahmad: It started in 2007.
Normally, we would have season journalists and new journalists and they would discuss issues regarding the profession.
For that particular year, we had invited Lawrence Lessig, who is not a journalist by profession. In fact, he is a lawyer.
We invited him and we had him do the keynote to start our Forum. It was one of the most inspiring speeches I had heard to that point.
He talked about holding on to the ideals of the Founding Fathers of the United States - being an American citizen - about freedom of expression and access to information.
He was saying that his own country is sort of letting go those ideals. He was challenging us as Al Jazeera
who are positioned within the Middle East, and who are positioned to be giving voice to the voiceless - particularly the economic self.
He said: "Some form of your content should be freely available for people to consume, to interact and to understand the situation that we report, the areas that we report on."
He challenged us, and then as a consequence to that - because subsequently, what we did was making a commitment at the iSummit, which is a conference that happened in Japan - we said: "We are going to release about 10 hours of footage every year under Creative Commons license." That was a commitment we made.
We were still looking at what is the process, how would you release it, because nobody else was doing that at such a scale at that point.
Then the Gaza War started.
We were put in this unique position where we had the only English international language channel, with reporters present in the conflict zone in Gaza.
Journalists from outside were not allowed in. The Israelis had blocked off access.
In a conflict situation which interests the whole World, where you are sitting on this content which you are generating, the situation led itself to releasing it, to letting people have access to it, because there is a need for that information to flow.
In that situation - because public opinion is what many times is going to influence how sometimes the World plays out - we lobbied with the government.
"We made this commitment, let us do both these steps of releasing anything and everything our cameras are capturing during the situation and release it so other broadcasters will not be able to contact us and say: "Can we buy this footage?" - which is the traditional way of doing it - and just put it up on the Internet with broadcast quality.
They can tape it and not feel any obligation, which would hinder them to be able to use that footage."
We managed to get that approval, and then for the duration of the conflict, anything that was coming in was posted to a repository we created at cc.aljazeera.net and posted all our content over there.
We put our transcripts and we released them under the BY license - which essentially only requires attribution.
All you have to say is that is from Al Jazeera, and you can do whatever you like with it.
The Risks of Creative Commons Licensing
Duration: 0' 58''
Robin Good: The typical reaction from a traditional broadcaster would be: "Oh, but then somebody is going to pick it up and say whatever they want with it!"
Moeed Ahmad: That is part of letting go.
I know that from an editorial perspective that is something that people would grapple with quite a lot, but in a situation like this, you want the enabling factor.
Empowering factor is so much more needed, that these risks are minimum.
When you allow the community to take control of the narrative, more than likely they can do justice to it.
With attribution, people can still come back if they want to see the unedited footage; they can see that on the Al Jazeera repository.
Those risks are minimal and mitigated.
Why Publishers Should Consider Creative Commons Licensing
Duration: 1' 52''
Robin Good: If I was the RAI president - Italian state television main channel - would you advise me to take the same approach - for example, with the news material we produce - or would you not?
Moeed Ahmad: Every time, when we present the story of our repository, people say: "But I am a freelancer and if I do this I would not make any money."
The idea is not to say: "Everybody must do as Al Jazeera did."
The idea is to start exploring the idea, understanding it to begin with.
The idea of Creative Commons is not a new idea.
The idea of "all rights reserved", the copyright is a new idea. This is not longer about 100 years old. Before, in the 18-19th century, this was not something that was common.
The people, artists would take from other artists. They would build on it and distribute their content, based on the value they added and they would get recognized as such.
The copyright issue, which came as a need of the time, evolved to this state we are in right now. But media landscape is changing again.
The Internet brought a huge shift, also the political changes that are happening and how information can and is disseminated now.
The shift is happening again.
Creative Commons is again becoming a need. You just need to see what is the best application.
Even for privates, like commercially-driven organizations, why not to try it with not all your content?
We are not doing it for everything. We did it within a particular event. Subsequently we have done it with a particular content that's been requested of us.
Take an approach.
Try to take one program that you are not going to make a lot of money on. Consider it as a marketing budget. Why not?
The Benefits of Licensing Content Under Creative Commons
Duration: 1' 50''
Robin Good: Why, as a last point, don't you touch a little bit on these unconventional marketing aspects?
Maybe what are the not immediate benefits of taking such an approach?
Moeed Ahmad: Right now, still at this point, very few people have done this.
If you are going to do it, you are going to get a buzz.
There is definite a marketing benefit to any brand that tries to or experiments with this.
Then also for us - for example - beware of the situation in the Arab world where the journalism, the media profession is not very old.
You had decades and decades since the colonization has ended. It has been a State-run media.
We do not have the same quality of journalists that you have in other parts of the world, where you have free press and you had journalists who built this profession: the standards, the quality are there.
In the Arab world, you do not have that.
This allows us to enable buddying journalists to be able to take some content, experiment with it, train and they will have that relationship with us.
Next year, the year after when these people become professional journalists, they will know that Al Jazeera has this sort of open ground and someway be interested in working for us.
Very early on, build that relationship with hopefully some of the brightest people in the industry, who are home-grown.
That benefit is not something you can put a monetary value on.
Robin Good: Great. Why do not you just say in the camera: "I am Moeed Ahmad of...". Just your business card.
Moeed Ahmad: OK. Sure.
I am heading the New Media section within Al Jazeera.
Video clips originally recorded by Robin Good for MasterNewMedia. First published on April 28th, 2010 as "Content Licensing: Why Al Jazeera Chose To Release Some Of Its News Video Content Under A Creative Commons License".
About Moeed Ahmad
Moeed Ahmad has been with Al Jazeera since 2005 and is currently heading the New Media team. His New Media team has successfully launched a number of initiatives such as Al Jazeera's Twitter feed, YouTube channel, Creative Commons repository, Facebook and iPhone apps. Moeed graduated in computer science at the University of Toronto in 2003.Robin Good -
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