Greg Dyke is going to put the BBC archives online
15 years ago, I joined the BBC as a video engineer with Television Film Services, an odd department that had dominion over (among other odd sites) Ealing Studios and the film & video archive at Windmill Road.
I spent a couple of weeks at Windmill Road, working on the 2-inch Videotape machines which you could edit videotape like film on - a razorblade to cut the tape and splice with sticky tape. You needed to cut at a frame boundary, which you found by looking for the sync pulses on the tape by holding a plastic box full of iron filings over the tape, making the tracks visible.
I walked through the archives, seeing rack after rack of old editions of Nationwide, film canisters of a forgotten adaptation of Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy, and many more fascinating looking can's and tapes.
At the time the BBC did not have a rolling re-copying program, and many programs on tape were lost to oxide decay, not recorded at all, or had the tapes re-used. Some missing Dr Who and Top of the Pops and Dad's Armyhave been recovered, and Rosie's cousin Rob Greenwood spent a great deal of time restoring video for Dr Who and other programs at BBC Enterprises in the 90s, in many cases from 'illicit' off-air recordings by hobbyists.
I hope the BBC can cut through the tangle of copyright restrictions on music in the programs and performance fees for all the old programs; if not the release may be very spotty.
The issue of non-commercial re-use only is also tricky; when purchasing archive footage from the BBC for MMC museum and CD-ROM projects, we often got a tape full of useful material, only to be told that rights on the bits we wanted were unknown or unavailable, and we had to re-edit.
I've heard odd tales about BBC trying to constrain rights geographically before - when they launched the BBC Choice satellite channel, they webcast it for a bit, but tried to only allow UK people to see it, which is a nonsense on the internet.
Danny has more discusion