Article categories: Issue 65
July 6th, 2009

There is something to be said for practical learning. It is one thing to spout theories about using open content licensing (OCL) to open up new worlds of creative endeavour and it is an entirely different thing to get out there and do it.

5Smiles, Video Slam 2007, Image by Andrew Garton, Open Channel Cooperative Ltd.

5Smiles, Video Slam 2007, Image by Andrew Garton, Open Channel Cooperative Ltd.

This was the motivation of new media producer and Program Director of Victoria’s Screen Resource Centre Open Channel, Andrew Garton when he decided to run a collaborative film project using only open and original content. The idea was first germinated during Open Channel’s Free Screen Culture forum at Arts Law Week 2006 and the international Creative Commons (CC) conference iSummit 2006. Andrew wanted to find out, first hand, how practical CC really is for creative collaboration, and to see how the CC licences could be “utilised within a cross-arts production environment. Not one, but many samples with a particular emphasis on the moving image.”

The initial idea of a collaborative film project rapidly formulated into the Open Channel Video Slam, a project in which 22 filmmakers (in 5 groups) would come together over 33 hours to create a short film using only CC content and original footage shot on location. Melbourne’s digital-arts bar Horse Bazaar provided a suitable venue (and plenty of coffee and wine) while equipment was assembled from Open Channel and the participants’ own private collections.

Script writers devised five designated themes for the project: tolerance; inclusion; diversity; freedom of expression and association; and access to knowledge and wisdom. Each of the filmmaker groups were asked to produce 2 minutes of film responding to an allocated theme. The result is 5 Smiles: a 10 minute film using over 110 Creative Commons licensed works including photographs, video footage, sound effects and music. 5 Smiles was screened simultaneously in Melbourne’s Federation Square, at Horse Bazaar and online on the Open Channel and EngageMedia websites.

Creative Commons is an international open content licensing scheme which provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. Creators can use CC licences to change the copyright terms on their content from “All Rights Reserved” to “Some Rights Reserved.” This creates a pool of ‘safe’ creative material that can be used and distributed with the copyright owner’s permission and without fear of copyright infringement. Jessica Coates and Elliott Bledsoe from Creative Commons Australia and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation flew down to assist with training the filmmakers in the legalities and in addressing any tricky questions. To further help with the legal questions, Open Channel and the Association for Progressive Communications Australia ( hosted the Rights Online forum at Cinema Nova. Speakers Shaun Miller, Senior Associate with Marshalls & Dent Lawyers, and Dr Mark Williams discussed the practicalities of the copyright models. Their presentations are available at

One lesson from the project is the importance of considering copyright issues right from the start in any collaborative film project. Well before Horse Bazaar’s doors were closed to the public and the macbooks and cameras switched, on the process of determining how best to use the CC licences and material whilst giving the creators the greatest flexibility had already begun. A decision as simple as which licence to release the completed work under proved to have a range of downstream effects. As some CC material has restrictions on how it can be licensed once it has been remixed, the licence chosen for the final product would determine what content can be used in the film. Reliable sources of CC material had to be located, to make sure their material was compatible with each licence. And the copyright agreements for all original content produced as part of the project had to be drafted to allow that material to be remixed and released under the chosen licence.

It was decided that the final product would be released under CC’s most popular licence, the Attribution-Noncommerical-ShareAlike 2.5 Australia licence ( This meant that Video Slammers were able to use any material released under the CC Attribution, Attribution-Noncommerical and Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike licences. Although this excluded material from some popular sites it would give the filmmakers the largest possible pool of content to choose from.

The biggest challenged faced on the day proved to be the practicalities of locating and utilising existing material in such a short timeframe. The filmmakers had to become familiar with the search facilities provided by Google, Yahoo and CC itself ( to find CC licensed material online. They learnt how to capture the content available and convert it to the required format; at the time of the Video Slam, a number of online content repositories, such as video sharing site (, did not provide easily downloadable copies of their CC licensed material. Finally, in order to monitor content usage, a content register was established on Google Docs. Each film group was required to document all CC licensed work they had used in their film on the register, and the entries were checked for compatibility.

These challenges were made easier by the expert advice and facilities available on the day. Individual slammers revealed unsuspected skills and expertise, while Andrew, Jessica and Elliott made themselves available for any and all questions and emergencies. And rear-projection urinals aside, Horse Bazaar was an ideal production location, placing itself at the intersection of eating, drinking and viewing. The venue sports a flexible tech environment with wireless or internet plug-in broadband, comprehensive audio setup with 12 speakers and 3 subwoofers and a unique 270 degree immersive video projection space comprised of 6 video projectors tiled together.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the steep learning curve the Video Slam proved to be an extremely valuable experience for all involved. The filmmakers gained a more thorough understanding of their licensing and content options, while the CC representatives went away with a better appreciation of the challenges that filmmakers face in the digital age. And everyone had an absolute ball.

Elliott Bledsoe and Jessica Coates are researchers based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation ( at the Queensland University of Technology ( Elliott is a Project Officer with Creative Commons Australia (, while Jessica is the Project Manager of the Creative Commons Clinic.

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VIDEO SLAM 01: Five Smiles Trailer
48 hrs, 20 filmmakers, 5 stories, 1 film…

VIDEO SLAM 01: Five Smiles
5 Smiles is an exploration of the themes of tolerance, inclusion, diversity, freedom and access. It contains 110 attributed Creative Commons licensed samples and was produced by five teams of cross-discipline artists / filmmakers in under 48 hours.

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