The BBC should have given their recipes to the world for safekeeping

Recipes being culled from the BBC is no trivial matter, as of course they are a huge and well used public resource.


However, the lesson we should be learning here is that public information should publicly licensed—under Creative Commons for instance—and effectively given to the world for safekeeping. Recipes are essentially reference material for our daily life, like a map. These 11,000 recipes deserve to be in the public domain—legally reusable by anyone.

It’s pretty clear that the BBC hasn’t really grappled with the idea of public reuse. Like many of our public institutions it has been slow to think about the duties it has to give resources and information back to the public. As a publisher, its instincts are probably that bit more conservative, in that it will by default wish to maintain control of what it produces.

The BBC is of course in a tricky position when it is relicensing content. I do not know the position with these recipes, how they were obtained, or how many are fully in control of the BBC. No doubt many are relicenced. But I do wonder if the question of reusable content ever came up: and I suspect if it did, it would not have been entertained as a prospect for very long. If you have inside information, please do leave a comment.

However, failing to grapple with these questions is a weakness. A modern public service broadcaster should be providing material not just free at the point of use, but also, where possible, free to reuse and republish. For sure, not the commercial end of its broadcasting, but in the case of recipes, there would surely be a simple case to do so. Printing off, republishing, sharing, emailing or teaching with BBC recipes would all benefit from using a Creative Commons licence.

It would also protect the BBC from the calls it is suffering today to have these recipes culled from their website. We could just take them elsewhere, perhaps to Wikimedia. (As it is, the factual matter could be stripped out, but textual descriptions would need to be rewritten—a big job, if achievable, but very inconvenient.)

Public sector broadcasters like the BBC should be a source of public domain material. If the BBC had decided to release this material for everyone, in a fully open manner, it would not be possible for the government to threaten to take it away from us today.

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