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On Tuesday we had Sir Michael Lyons in the house discussing his review of public service broadcasting. He made a powerful case, and stood up well to some searching questions from the audience (you can hear it shortly, and from next week will be able to see it in edited form on this website)

A key debate is whether the so-called ‘excess’ licence fee (the money was added in the last settlement to the BBC’s budget to cover the costs of digital switchover) should in time be given to Channel Four and other broadcasters to support them in their public service role, and thus ensure a diversity of content provision.

Lyon’s response is firstly that the BBC itself faces constant demands for better services (for example, more regional content) so it could spend the ‘excess’ many times over.

Second, while he recognises the problems faced by Channel Four as markets fragment and advertising revenues fall, Lyons does not think top slicing the license fee is the right response, particularly because to do so would change the character of C4 and thus be self-defeating.

But the core of the Lyons thesis is that what matters to the public is diversity of content and of platforms not diversity of supply. If this is the goal it is one, he argues, the BBC is quite capable of discharging on its own.

Michael Lyons has built a robust argument that is an effective counter to laziness of the excess licence fee argument. However, Channel Four too is making a strong case and the common sense view that we need diversity of supply in PSB as in other public services will be hard to resist.

As it makes it case the BBC will have, as always, to try to avoid the charge of arrogance. It was with this in mind that a particular article in The Times caught my eye. A woman is being threatened with a lawsuit by the BBC for posting free knitting patterns of Dr Who baddies on the internet (under a creative commons licence). This woman was forced to remove the patterns because of copyright infringement. The case continues, but I think that the BBC is missing a trick.

As we are entering an era of what Lawrence Lessig at the University of Stamford called a ‘read/ write’ culture, it is important that publishers begin to take notice of the benefits presented to them by fans.

In Japan the manga publishers have long had, and benefited from, a tacit agreement with their fans that they will look the other way when fans create new books about existing characters, sometimes taking them in entirely new directions.

Surely the BBC could, and should, view this model of shared intellectual property in the light of its public service role of encouraging creativity and innovation.

On an unrelated topic, the always engaging Daniel Finkelstein wrote a fascinating column yesterday about the happiness debate. It’s definitely worth a read.


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