With all the fuss about the pirating of movies and TV shows on the Internet, it's important to remember that there are lots of legal sources of entertainment out there, too. Some are free services, and others have a reasonable cost, so if you've ever wondered about the world of on-line video but want to maintain the purity of your copyright ethic, here are a few choices.
First the free stuff, like independent TV. These are shows created by a group or individual and posted on the Net, either at a stand-alone site or as part of a collection of programming hosted by someone else. Sure, a lot of it is crap-video cameras are cheap and plentiful, but talent is still as scarce as it ever was-but a lot of it is interesting to see, and there is a growing constituency of creative people who are betting on the Net as the future of television instead of trying to get a development deal from a studio or network. If the Kids in the Hall were starting out now instead of the mid-1980s, they might not bother waiting for the traditional media to notice them.
RantTV (www.ranttv.com/) is one place to start. It runs like a normal-world network (using a rotating schedule), so it has to be selective about content. Adbusters has a show there, and some wild guy from Langley named Sean Kennedy has two. There's a lot of U.S. alternative news shows and, naturally, computer and technology ones. A few radio streams are also offered. But if you want a lot of content, it'd be tough to beat Archive.org (www.archive.org/), a vast Internet resource that includes some 30 billion historical Web pages, and more than 20,000 live music recordings representing some 900 artists who allow taping and distribution. So, if you want to hear 2,700 Grateful Dead concerts, this is your new home.
Oh, there's video, too. Some are feature films and shorts in the public domain (427 titles recently, including Night of the Living Dead, Reefer Madness, and My Favorite Brunette), plus there are collections of independent news, youth media, and a few dozen vintage cartoons. (All the subgroups of the main site feature a most-viewed and highest-rated list to help find the good stuff fast.) And there's the Prelinger Archive files (www.prelinger.com/). Rick Prelinger started collecting so-called ephemeral films back in 1983. Those are vintage advertising, safety, industrial, promotional, amateur, and educational films, the stuff nobody saved but everybody parodied: Are You Popular?, How to Use the Dial Phone, What to Do on a Date, plus a lot of TV commercials from the 1950s. (I'm really craving a Lucky Strike and a smooth ride in a Chevrolet for some reason.)
When the Library of Congress acquired the Prelinger archives in 2002, it contained some 48,000 films. But he still had some left over, and half of those 4,000 are available here. Top download? Duck and Cover, the nuclear-preparedness instructional film for school kids. What's more, Prelinger and Archive.org not only permit free viewing but "you are warmly encouraged to download, use and reproduce these films in whole or in part, in any medium or market throughout the world. You are also warmly encouraged to share, exchange, redistribute, transfer and copy these films, and especially encouraged to do so for free. Any derivative works that you produce using these films are yours to perform, publish, reproduce, sell, or distribute in any way you wish without any limitations" (Prelinger). Now that's cool.
But it's not all. Archives.org has other video collections: all 619 episodes of PBS's Computer Chronicles, amateur news footage, and some unusual new genres. There are Brick Films (340-plus titles), stop-motion animations created using Lego and similar products and often filmed using Lego's digital camera brick. Then there's 357 Speed Runs, showing the fastest route through video games like Quake and Zelda, plus 2,279 game-preview and promotions files. There are also 331 examples of Machinima, a technique that uses the graphics engines of video games to create footage. Sometimes amusing dialogue and a story line is simply applied over regular game clips, but the sophistication of games these days-and the number of customizable options-have made these ones into virtual studios. The first big success was Red Vs Blue (www.redvsblue.com/), a warped overlay on the world of Halo. It's now up to episode 51 and has millions of viewers. The same group (Rooster Teeth Productions) recently began producing The Strangerhood (strangerhood.com/), a sitcom built with the Sims 2 software.
Skip Elsheimer is also a contributor to Archive.org, but it's worth visiting his own site. The AV Geeks Film Archive (www.avgeeks.com/) is another ephemeral-film collection, some "14,000 films gathered from school auctions, thrift stores, closets and dumpsters". If you're ever in Raleigh, North Carolina, he puts on theme nights, or you can just enjoy what's on-line, including classic educational filmstrips complete with optional audio track and, of course, the beep.
Wow. I haven't even gotten through a handful of these, much less the for-pay sites, so I'll continue this next week. I'll leave you with the CBC Archives (cbc.ca/archives/), which contains a vast amount of footage from the network's broadcasting history (radio and TV). You can search directly or browse through themed collections: people like Wayne Gretzky, Marshall McLuhan, Terry Fox, Glenn Gould, topics like war, punk rock, environmentalism, the suburbs, and the '60s.
Cable TV? Don't really need it these days.