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C-SPAN Gets Wiser to Web

Broadcasting & Cable: C-SPAN Loosens Copyright for Some Content Online. C-SPAN is loosening its copyright policy on some material for online use, saying it wants to expand citizens’ access to online video of congressional hearings, White House activities, and other government-sponsored events.

Progress, but C-SPAN’s behavior has been a bit obnoxious, and the proof will be in the actual policies it puts forward.

The network had been claiming it owned the material it showed from floor debates, which are captured by government cameras, not C-SPAN’s — a blatant misuse of copyright, given that nothing from the federal government can be copyrighted.

And it’s good business, perhaps, but lousy citizenship given C-SPAN’s nonprofit status and existence due to government-granted monopolies, that the network was copyrighting the tapes it made at committee hearings.

What we need, of course, is the widespread of cameras inside all committee rooms. Everything should be archived at the least, and even better web-cast as it’s occurring. The public pays for these folks to make laws and exercise oversight; we should have access, unfettered access, to what they do.

3 Comments on “C-SPAN Gets Wiser to Web”

  1. #1 Carl Malamud
    on Mar 8th, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Hi Dan –

    You should give C-SPAN a break. I’ve had very long, very detailed discussions with their senior management, and they are very sincere about this new policy. It is a dramatic break from the past, it is far more generous than they had to be. The net had been asking about congressional hearings, and C-SPAN went and made this new policy apply to *all* government proceeding they cover both in the past and in the future. That’s a *huge* amount of new material that is available under a very liberal policy. For example, if you’re a commercial blogger (e.g., you make money on ads), you could use their material pretty much without restriction. And, they are very clear that the floor of the house and senate are truly public domain.

    Fighting about the validity of the copyright is interesting, but that’s a multi-year legal battle. And, it’s a crap shoot. So, this is truly a much easier way to have this material available, which is all that matters.

    And, as you state, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion if Congress provided an adequate video record of their material. The principle they should adopt, which I am calling the Pelosi Principle, is that “broadcast-quality video from every congressional hearing should be available for download on the Internet.” If Congress signed up to reach that goal within, say, 2 years, that would be a huge win for democracy.


  2. #2 Dan Gillmor
    on Mar 8th, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Carl, I’m thrilled at their change of heart. But their not-so-kind treatment of Metavid spoke volumes, too.

    Now let’s get those cameras into every public-business space in the Capitol and office buildings.

  3. #3 Steve Cisler
    on Mar 9th, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    One of the interesting developments about info/data coming from federal sources is that it has been a great source of new and derivative works. However, many agencies have various ways of acting as if their files are copyrighted (as is the case for many other countries and the UN). For instance, the Smithsonian Institution, with which I worked to put their images on the Internet in the very early 90’s gets a fair amount of money from its foundation, and their lawyers said that if any funds go toward supporting the office of photographic services, they can exert copyright over those images. I imagine cspan does something similar.

    But we know that the number of citizen surveillance devices will increase, and perhaps so too will those cameras turned on the legislators, and that stream might be archivable by any group for any reason.