Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Trafficking (in) the Archive: Canada, Copyright, and the Study of Television

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Trafficking (in) the Archive: Canada, Copyright, and the Study of Television

Article excerpt

OUR ESSAY IS INDEBTED TO THE IDEA OF TRAFFICKING, that is, to the idea that the movement of certain things, in certain contexts, is illicit. We propose in this paper that the dissemination of knowledge for most media scholarship in Canada inherently involves trafficking in covert archives. Our particular interest is in television texts and the idea that, within the increasingly constricting context of Canadian copyright and privacy laws, using, sharing, format shifting, copying, screening, and teaching Canadian television texts are collectively an illegal activity.

We are certainly not the first ones to make note of this movement. In 1990, Mary Jane Miller wrote a piece that was included in the proceedings stemming from a symposium of the International Council of Archives by the National Archives of Canada. It is called, wonderfully, "Archives from the Point of View of the Scholarly User: or, If I died and went to a platonic archetype of a sound and moving images archive this is what I'd find." In it, she describes the televisual scholar's archival paradise. It's a place where there are archivists who know and value the work of the television scholar. It's a place where one can sit and watch or read through all sorts of material, because a television archive should not just contain television texts but also all sorts of written materials (scripts, memos, reviews, letters) relating to the production, dissemination, and viewing of television. This archive is user friendly. Users continuously add texts to the archive. Miller, for example, considers this a place for her extensive interviews of key players in the national public broadcaster, the CBC. And, amazingly given the time it was written, Miller imagines the archive to exist in digital as well as material space, allowing all sorts of people, from all sorts of places, to be connected to it. This was 1990. Twenty years later, while technologies have radically changed and altered the televisual landscape and its study, it seems that we are hardly better off then we were before. Along with Mary Jane, we are still dreaming of archive heaven.

As scholars of Canadian television we struggle daily with the issue of accessibility. In this paper we will outline the politics and practices that have converged to make the study and teaching of Canadian television an increasingly difficult, and potentially illegal, activity. As our interest in this subject has deepened, we have read with great interest the discussions--and strategies--put forward by scholars writing in other national contexts. (1) Canada is not the only country with problems related to television archiving; we are not unique in being preoccupied with the question of the television archive. But the particular intersection of barriers and histories we face as Canadian television scholars is, we think, unique. We are residents of a nation that produces lots of content, all of it largely publicly funded, with no history of syndication. We have no public or private national archive for television that is accessible to scholars. Our policies regarding "fair use" (a term not used in Canada) are not only punitive but will, we believe, potentially inhibit the future of Canadian television scholarship. The journal Critical Studies in Television--and the extensive accompanying website, the brainchild of the inexhaustible Kim Akass and Janet McCabe--has been an important voice in bringing the debates about archives and archiving to the forefront of the television studies community. We note that the CST listserv, largely highlighting events in the United Kingdom, abounds with information, conferences, and workshops related to archives and archiving. A whole section of the website offers information about archives in which television holdings can be found. Recently, Michele Hilmes has described the amazing media archive that resides (accessibly) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison:

   Not only does the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) collection
   reside in Madison--the only accessible archive of a major US
   network, holding over 600 boxes of papers and more than 3000
   recordings--but so do more than 500 other media-related
   collections. … 
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