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Pete Roythorne looks at a great source of free downloads.

Doubtless, most of the things you've read about digital content, the internet and downloading will have been full of arguments about copyright and how it's killing this industry or that, so this should come as a pleasant change.

The BBC, Channel 4, the British Film Institute and Open University have joined forces to produce something called the Creative Archive. Due to launch over the summer, it goes against all the recent copyright arguments by offering the public free access to digital content to, as the website puts it: "Find it. Mix it. Rip it. Share it."

If you're unsure what we mean by digital content, then read on. The Creative Archive will offer sound recordings, video clips and entire TV programmes from its four members, which you will be able to download onto your computer. Video content will be downloadable as a digital video file that offers similar picture quality to a VHS recording.

This effectively gives teachers and students a free run of vast amounts of content, that they can edit, manipulate and reproduce almost as they wish - classroom presentations, school projects, learning resources, you name it - as long as it's within the guidelines set out on the website.

So what's on offer? The BBC plans to put about 100 hours of television and radio material online, with most of it taken from specialist factual programmes such as natural history and science. The OU's pilot scheme will make available video and audio teaching material from a range of genres including geography, science and history, as well as footage from the OU and BBC series Rough Science.

Channel 4 has previously commissioned a selection of content which it will make available for use under the Creative Archive Licence, and the bfi will be releasing silent comedy, early literary adaptations, newsreel footage and archive footage of British cities in the early 20th century.

In addition, Teachers' TV, which already offers downloads of its programmes, will be releasing its content under the Creative Archive Licence for a pilot period, and Arts Council England will fund two fellowships for artists to work with material released under the Creative Archive Licence.

For the future, the Creative Archive group is trying to persuade other broadcasters, museums and galleries to join the project. The hope is that the scheme will help fuel creative activity in classrooms across Britain.

It is also hoped that these creations can be uploaded back to the sites and shared with other users and increase the worth of the project. The moving image and audio has just become as "portable" and "quotable" as text.


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