Those of you who've been following along know that intellectual property and philanthropy is a major concern of mine. I'm happy (?) to report that the archetypical example of why IP matters to philanthropy may be coming to conclusion. Monday's New York Times reported that Eyes on the Prize, the groundbreaking PBS documentary on the civil rights movement, may be about to move out of copyright purgatory and back to TV screens, perhaps as early as next year.
When the series was first made (first shown in 1987), with significant philanthropic support, permissions for much of the content were secured for a limited time and those rights expired. This has kept this classic documentary from being shown since 1993. Major gifts from the Ford Foundation and an individual donor, Richard Gilder, will allow the project's administrators to re-new their purchases of these permissions. Total cost? Somewhere north of $600,000. Imagine how those resources could have been used if the permissions could have been purchased once? Imagine what these kinds of costs will mean if they were incurred by every such project? Imagine what life would be like if no creative material could be developed, shown, or referenced without constantly paying someone to do so?
Thank you, Ford and Mr. Gilder. Your support will allow ours and future generations to learn lessons not only about the civil rights movement but about the need for a creative commons as well.