C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

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?

Tags: C-Span, open government, open house project (all tags)



Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

you are using the wrong area of law. this is a question of access to congress and why c span has exclusivity, and if they have exclusivity to televise- that's a contract issue. namely changing the nature of the contract clause, not the nature of copyright law.

by bruh21 2007-02-15 11:45AM | 0 recs
If Congress just let more networks film,

...most of them wouldn't want to.  Those which did would still claim ownership.

That is why ANY footage of Congress members doing their jobs should be public domain.

by Eric Jaffa 2007-02-15 12:03PM | 0 recs
Re: If Congress just let more networks film,

Actually- again- this is where you don't apparently understand that this isn't a copyright issue. It's one of contract law. You can easily draft an agreement that protects the public interest in this. your argument, from what i understand of it, really doesn't deny what i just said so much as tries to circumvent my point that this isn't a copyright law question since there isn't a reason why they couldn't have handled the issue in contract law

by bruh21 2007-02-15 12:16PM | 0 recs
Re: If Congress just let more networks film,

If you're implying that the Press Gallery should require its membership to make their recordings public domain as part of its membership policy, this isn't a bad idea.

by aphid 2007-02-15 01:58PM | 0 recs
Re: If Congress just let more networks film,

I think that would be a narrowly tailored idea that would fit the situation.

by bruh21 2007-02-16 11:06AM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

there is no contract issue because  C-SPAN does not have exclusivity.  They are one of many media organizaitons which has access to the (public domain) press gallery feed.  Furthermore, they're one of many broadcasters who, as credentialed members of the press gallery, are allowed to bring their own cameras into committee hearings.  They are simply one of the few of these organizations that (re)broadcasts the footage wall to wall, while most condense it to 30 seconds of sound bites or "news".

by aphid 2007-02-15 12:00PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

there isn't an agreement at all between the congress and the press with regard to this? exclusivity is only a minor point. if the concern is, as matt claims, the footage, then why not simply get the footage, but if the goal is more than that- then of course, why not stop using these side points to make that point.

by bruh21 2007-02-15 12:17PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

Clipping speeches from legislators is CLEARLY Fair Use, but do you really want to face C-Span's lawyers if you are just a random blogger with a TIVO?  Of course not.  The law is completely out of whack.

I am so tired of you trolling copyright themed threads, Bruh.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-15 12:50PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

Can I ask why my saying this is contract law related rather than copyright law related merits a troll rating?

by bruh21 2007-02-15 01:21PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

Because you're not actually addressing the thrust of the claim, which is the arbitrary enforcement of excessive copyright claims to prevent free speech.  You are using legalese to avoid the question and accuse others of not understanding the issue.

Stop it.

by Matt Stoller 2007-02-15 01:30PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

Matt- I am using the balancing of the legal concepts because we are talking about legal issues. I'm not doing it to troll this blog. How can we talk about legal concepts with out talking about the law?

by bruh21 2007-02-15 01:32PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

For the record, here is the basic case for fair use from wikipedia:


by bruh21 2007-02-15 01:24PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

Senate hearings are recorded by the Senate Recording Studio and broadcast locally on the Committee channels on the cable system.  I've always understood them to be completely public domain.  Many committees have webcasts and archives of the webcasts.  

Am I wrong in my assumption that one can just ask and get recordings?

by micarrdc 2007-02-15 12:27PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims


by Matt Stoller 2007-02-15 12:45PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

w/r/t "where", the house recording studio referred me to "First Call".. there's a phone number but no website.  They sell DVDs of hearings for $30-60.

by aphid 2007-02-15 12:51PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

It's weird.  I can't really figure out the answer to this question.  When the networks decide to cover a hearing they bring in their own cameras or, in some cases, tap into the Recording Studio feed.  All the stuff is archived at the recording studio and available upon request (though, they may actually bill us).  

Another interesting quirk is that the internal feeds on the cable system don't have any of the CSPAN graphics on them (unless they are showing archived footage or their original programming) which sort of leads me to think we are actually seeing the feed before it is even passed off to CSPAN.  

This stuff is clearly public domain.  I wonder if there are just antiquated regs in the Superintendants office that get in the way of people getting access to it.

Obviously, this is not my specialty but it really seems like nobody has given this much thought at all.

by micarrdc 2007-02-16 06:56AM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

"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."

I'm sure it does... copyright (and intellectual property law) is, gerneally speaking, completely asinine.



by lordmikethegreat 2007-02-15 12:53PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

What copyright law is perfectly rational!

slkdfjadlksfjsadlkfjasdofiuasdoifjadskl lkd fjaklsdjf asidfj asdolkfja sdlf jasdlkfj aslkfjakl fajd flkasj faklsjf ld fkjalk jalaj folauf09jfklasdfjaslkf als fuw-9fwmkfl alkf asdfo asufsf

I own that for the next 100 years, dead or alive.

by Tatarize 2007-02-15 03:59PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

Dems need to strike a deal with CSPAN. In exchange for making all of its official government content (e.g. floor proceedings, committee hearings, Bush speeches, press conferences, etc.) public domain, they will be allowed to provide more coverage for left-leaning think tanks, organizations and leaders, to balance out their current bias towards ones on the far right.

Call it the Fairness and Openness in Political Coverage Doctrine.

by kovie 2007-02-15 01:05PM | 0 recs
Maybe This Is Why C-Span Won't go After Pelosi

C-Span has been trying to get their own cameras on the House floor, but the Republicans wouldn't allow it. In December C-Span sent this letter to Pelosi-

http://www.c-span.org/pdf/npelosi.pdf (pdf file)

Looks like they are playing nice with Pelosi in hopes to get their cameras on the floor. Of course if that happens, then all bets are off. They will have any clip pulled from YouTube immediately.

Perhaps an alternative would be to allow C-Span to have the cameras, however a new government website or (better yet) channel on cable (as part of their FCC license requirements for PSA) is created to which all proceedings are public domain.

No matter what happens, anything happening in Congress should be part of the public domain (short of National Security issues). C-Span should not be allowed to hold a monopoly over the viewing of our democracy in action.


by hovercrafter 2007-02-15 02:45PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims: Meta

For me this is a tougher and deeper question than copyright vs. contract law.

Out here in FlyoverLand, C-Span is the only television source of unbiased, uncensored, un-spun, un-commented-on-by-voiceover news that we have.  If I want to know what that congresshominid said, C-S is the only place I can go.  Same for committee hearings.  On weekends, C-S2 does those great presentations by authors that no one else will ever air, certainly not PBS.

So, I want C-S to live long and prosper.  We need them.  Now, if all their content goes public domain, they lose a source of revenue they need to stay in business.  Last time I checked, they aren't just rollin' in the coin.  If anyone can use anything C-S, I worry that C-S will go in the financial toilet, and we'll lose everything they do.

On the other hand, out here in FlyoverLand, local kkkable companies can cut off C-S anytime they want to.  There's no contract with the kkkable companies that requires them to carry C-S.  So, about a year ago, Fuck-Time-Warner cut C-S2 off their cable feed here in Houston/southeast Texas!
No more Senate hearings for us, no more Book TV (which I really, really miss).  Despite everything they tried to do, C-S could not get back on our feed (I kept in touch with both sides, and it was all on the C-S main page for weeks). The only way I can get C-S2 is by computer feed.  Talk about censorship!

Well, I can't be at my 'puter 24/7, and can't download large quantities of video feed, so I'd like to have another venue out there that would provide free, archived C-S2 content I can't get on Fuck-Time-Warner kkkable.  But there ain't none.  Video clips on something like YouTube, only longer, would be great.

So there's my dilemma in all this.  C-Span is terrific, and I want them to be able to continue to offer what they do and more.  But if local kkkable censors them off tv, and no one else can offer their content, what can I do?  

As an old Texas teacher used to say, Keep 'em ignant and keep 'em on the fahm.

by traveler 2007-02-15 03:17PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

But if local kkkable censors them off tv, and no one else can offer their content, what can I do?  

At metavid, we're offering their floor proceedings.  They're not super happy about it, but it's PD.  Our interface is still a bit rough, but is usable in most if not all browsers.

by aphid 2007-02-15 04:18PM | 0 recs
Re: C-Span Backs Off Copyright Claims

So CSPAN seems to be taking a public domain feed from the house and senate chambers, and turning it into a copyright-protected item by adding their graphics?

Then the Congress should set up a webserver to feed the gov't owned and produced material directly onto the internets.

Is there currently any other way to get access to those feeds besides CSPAN?

by lutton 2007-02-15 05:27PM | 0 recs


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