The BBC and A Game of Saints

St David, patron saint of Wales, in a 1930s stained-glass window.

In December 1996 I published on the web around 150 of my poems under the title ‘Rebel ar y We’ (‘Rebel on the Web’); subsequently changed in 2005 to ‘Rhedeg ar Wydr’ (Running on a Glass (roof)). They were published on the open web, with no charge to access them. Little did I think at the time that it would take 20 years for the cultural sector in Wales to follow suit. Some establishments such as the National Library of Wales and Coleg Cymraeg (Federal University) opened their doors, others, such as the BBC, carefully and gradually unlocked their doors, and others such as Cadw (the counterpart of English Heritage) kept their doors tight shut, with a ‘Crown Copyright’ notice clamped on every one of their two million images and text.

In the Welsh newspaper Y Cymro on the 12th February 1997 I said, “Many people have asked me to publish an old-fashioned-type-paper-book of poems, but I prefer publishing on the latest technology – sharing my poems freely to every person on this planet. The same week, Golwg mentioned that “Robin warned that publishers must move on with the age, or face the fact that the Welsh language will be left to die, on the shelf of an old and dusty library. The volume of poems (for what they’re worth!) can still be accessed on the Web Archive.

On the one hand we have moved on in the last 20 years: more than a thousand ebooks have been published in Welsh since that first one in December 1996, and the National Library are currently uploading text and 120,000 images under a free and open licence onto Wikimedia Commons. On the other hand, we can NOT upload one image from Cadw onto Commons, unless a sum of £40 per image is paid to them! ‘Ownership’, selfishly, is still a cornerstone of most people’s live – not only establishments such as Cadw – but also to many individual authors who believe that stamping a copyright notice on their work will possibly, one day make them a fortune! Yet, if a Welsh language book sells 2,000 copies – it’s a bestseller! The idea of sharing information and literature freely disappeared from the Welsh psyche in the 1980s. But it’s coming back, and coming fast.

In the spring of 2015 BBC Wales released many articles to Wicipedia Cymraeg and their text has been used on cy-wiki. This was a large and brave step, and surprisingly: the world did not end. Today, BBC Wales have used Wikipedia to create a game in celebration of tomorrow’s St David’s Day. Geolocations on the List of Welsh Saints were used to create fictitious saint names on the BBC website, which includes links to both Welsh and English Wikipedia articles. Another brave step, and the solid, metal door opens another inch.

We look forward to seeing more content being shared openly by the BBC; for at the end of the day, it’s all about sharing and widening access to information that we as licence fee payers and taxpayers have paid for. And sharing on the world platform is better than storing content in metal filing cabinets in cold archives of dusty, archaic establishments.

Try the game for yourself.

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