C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims
by Matt Stoller, Thu Feb 15, 2007 at 11:16:15 AM EST
Video access to the house is a major innovation in democracy. Being able to remix and use that video in public speech on the internet is becoming increasingly critical to our democracy. Kos pointed out that the Republican Study Group attacked Pelosi for violating C-Span's copyright policies.
Earlier today, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) released a document about the Speaker's use of copyrighted/trademarked C-SPAN material on a Congressional website. The document was based upon a conversation that RSC staff had with Barry Katz, the Manager of C-SPAN Video Assets (and the employee identified as being directly responsible for answering questions to Congress about the use of C-SPAN material).
Bruce Collins, the Corporate Vice President and General Counsel of C-SPAN, called post release and said that the information provided by the C-SPAN employee to the RSC was incorrect.
Given this contradictory information, the RSC wanted to be the first set the record straight and withdraw the information included in the release.
I'm not sure that Collins is correct here. Or rather, my guess is that he's backing off this claim because he doesn't want C-Span to send a takedown notice to Pelosi's office.
Floor proceedings are televised, and that material is public domain because the cameras are owned by the government. Committee proceedings, though, are not. Here's Metavid, a collaborative project attempting to democratize government content, on the issue.
Metavid is able to re-use the video footage of the House and Senate floor that C-SPAN airs because it is a government work. When a government employee creates something as part of his or her job, the resulting content is public domain. As Lamb's letter references, C-SPAN already has its own cameras in committee chambers. C-SPAN's coverage of committee hearings, such as the Alito nomination in the Senate Judiciary Committee, is perhaps more nuanced than the head-on shots found in floor proceedings. During some of the tougher questions, cameras captured the reactions of his family -- that would not be possible under the current house rules. I would love to link to a clip in our archives illustrating the difference, but the fact that the cameras are privately held has another effect; the footage is copyrighted.
The Alito hearings are copyrighted for the next hundred years, and held by C-Span. That's wrong. Over at the Open House Project, we're looking to figure out ways to make this content more accessible and usable by the public.
Here's the question, though. Is Collins rejecting the Republican Study Commission's claims because they are inaccurate, or because he doesn't want to pick a fight with Pelosi? After all, this is fairly common.
However, even though the House and Senate footage itself is in the public domain, the House and Senate coverage shown on the C-SPAN networks is not according to C-SPAN. By applying C-SPAN logos and graphics to the proceedings of Congress, C-SPAN makes a claim of copyright to these audio/video documents.... It has not been tested in court whether C-SPAN's graphics and the factual information such as who is on screen constitute a form of expression.
Is C-Span being consistent in allowing Pelosi to keep her videos up, but sending take-downs to others?