Trolling the trove

It was great to hear last week that Tony Martin has donated a large number of tapes of material from Martin/Molloy, Get This and The D-Generation breakfast show to the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA). Audio-visual archives worldwide primarily acquire their collections from “official” sources such as broadcasters and production companies, and in Australia commercial radio has historically been overlooked and under-archived. Actors, writers, hosts and producers, who sometimes have copies of productions they have worked on which have not been officially archived, often fill this gap, and Tony Martin has become the most famous recent example of such a person donating some of their work to an archive.

But while material from these classic radio shows will now be preserved for the ages it’s unlikely we the public will get to hear any of it very soon. Providing access to its collection is part of NFSA’s remit but section 4.4.3.1 of its collections policy makes it clear that this is highly unlikely in this case:

c) Access to items in the collections for commercial use may be permitted if such activity:

  • does not violate any party’s intellectual property rights
  • does not violate any donor- or depositor-imposed restrictions
  • does not jeopardise the NFSA’s not-for-profit status.

d) The NFSA may provide, usually for a fee, reproductions of collection material. Such reproductions do not transfer to the researcher or producer copyright or other intellectual property rights, or otherwise constitute permission for the researcher to publish or display the reproduction beyond the contracted use specified.

The copyright on much of the donated material is likely to prevent anything beyond digitisation and expert care of the tapes for the foreseeable future, so don’t hold your breath for CD releases, or downloads from the NFSA’s website. While it will presumably be possible to visit the NFSA and hear the material once it has been digitised, this is not something that will be convenient for most people. Therefore we must continue to rely on existing CD compilations and off-air recordings made by enthusiasts. Happily, many of the latter are easily available online…if you know where to look.

The other piece of good news is that many audio-visual archives now recognise that there are significant gaps in their collections and are actively trying to redress the balance. The British Film Institute’s Missing Believed Wiped scheme is one example of a way in which illegal off-air recordings are being absorbed into national collections and made accessible to the public, and to a certain extent the NFSA seems to be following suit.

NFSA archivists are also engaged in active, “contemporary collecting” of material indicative of the times. Last year staff from the NFSA visited Triple M Melbourne’s Hot Breakfast to get the views of their listeners on what segments from that show they should preserve. The Hot Breakfast may not be the greatest show ever but it is indicative of commercial radio at this time in history, so it’s reasonable that the NFSA bothered to do this.

No doubt NFSA staff are also out there tracking down episodes of Kyle and Jackie O and the master copy of Mel Greig and Michael Christian’s Royal phone prank. What will the Australians of the future think of us when they hear them? Apart from that we must have been savages? Let’s hope a kindly archivist will include a note with Tony Martin’s donations, explaining “Beat the Beazley” and “Donkey Courtroom” – that’ll prevent our children’s children from burning down our retirement homes in disgust, right?

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