A much-linked-to piece by Cory Doctorow throws praise upon the BBC for its imagination and risk-taking in the realm of new media. As much as I share his enthusiasm, and admire BBC new media tremendously, the article almost entirely misses the elephant on the table, until it concludes:
The greatest irony here is that it takes a publicly-funded broadcaster from a cozy liberal democracy to teach America's lumbering, anti-competitive Hollywood dinosaurs what a real, competitive offering looks like.
That isn't an irony, it's the whole bloody point! I may be a policy wonk who is still struggling to throw off remnants of dialectical materialism, but I can't see how any sensible analysis of intellectual property can ignore funding structures and risk distribution. The BBC is funded by a license fee, and risk is carried by the public. If the BBC makes a turkey, we suffer because it was our money that some bloke in square glasses chucked at some home improvement nonsense (for instance), and if the BBC makes enough turkeys, then the Creative Archive will be a turkey sanctuary. Fortunately for us, this isn't what happens.
There is of course an irony that the public finance model enables a higher degree of risk-taking than the private sector is able to, given that public sector employees are constantly denigrated by management experts for being psychologically risk averse. But this is not so much to do with the people that the BBC employs, as innovative as they may be. It is because of its public finance model, not inspite of it. The license fee is effectively a form of risk capital put forward by the British public, for which no return on investment is sought (unless you count public value). The private sector is not only incapable of matching the scale of this upfront investment, it is incapable of making any investment for which there is no return.
Cory's argument reminds me of seeing Malcolm Gladwell at the ICA recently, talking about his silly new book. Gladwell was disowning his work, saying that as soon as he writes something it's no longer his, and belongs to the public. This is all very well (given that he's not a nazi, for instance, in which case I would want to make damn sure that the ideas were still his, and remind him of it), but he is in a situation where a publisher will give him a pretty stonking advance. I am not suggesting that Creative Commons is a rich man's toy, only that financial risk always gets carried somewhere; it doesn't disappear into thin air simply by ignoring it.