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Extermi-Knit

A Doctor Who fan and avid knitter, inspired by characters from her favourite TV show, created a series of alien designs. As with her other designs she posted the patterns to her blog for other fans to use and enjoy. The BBC's brand protection unit soon wrote her an email, claiming the patterns infringed their intellectual property. The designer was forced to remove her works from her website.

The BBC are under an obligation to protect their intellectual property, otherwise they risk losing their rights. Yet its not clear the knitting patterns infringed the BBC's rights. Transformative works, which are created by fans of an original work rather than by the original creators, are a grey area in UK law.

Organisations like the BBC, with a public service remit, could take advantage of this grey area. They could stimulate the UK's creative economy by allowing budding creators to remix content. The BBC could seed a new generation of creators and re-mixers just as it nurtured a generation of computer games developers in the 1980s with its computer literacy project, centred around the iconic BBC micro.

Although the BBC also has a commercial wing that produces for profit merchandise, based on Doctor Who and other shows, this does not justify overzealous management of their intellectual property that discourages invention and creativity. The BBC's main source of funding is the licence fee imposed on all owners of TV sets in the UK: it is publicly funded.

Bottom line: After ORG spearheaded resistance in the media the BBC withdrew their legal threats, and Mazz became a minor knitting celebrity with her designs appearing in The Guardian. However, regulation of transformative works, as with much intellectual property law, remains unclear and prefers rights holders to the public interest. Despite promises in the past, the UK Government has made no public progress to introduce protection for transformative works.