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Post-Pelosi Debacle, C-SPAN Liberalizes

March 9, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

C-SPAN announced yesterday, in this press release, that they are adopting a new copyright policy:

>C-SPAN is introducing a liberalized copyright policy for current, future, and past coverage of any official events sponsored by Congress and any federal agency— about half of all programming offered on the C-SPAN television networks—which will allow non-commercial copying, sharing, and posting of C-SPAN video on the Internet, with attribution.

This comes after a controversy involving the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), posting a minute of video from a House committee hearing shot by C-SPAN, on her blog, The Gavel. Until yesterday’s announcement, C-SPAN claimed rights to all video footage they shoot in committee hearings, but considered footage shot on the House and Senate floor, public domain.

In the wake of the controversy, Carl Malamud distributed a compelling open letter to C-SPAN President and CEO Brian Lamb, arguing that Pelosi was within her rights to assert fair usage of the material and requesting that C-SPAN “release all of that material back into the public domain where it belongs.” Which, of course, is exactly what C-SPAN is now announcing they plan to do. From the letter:

>…I can speak from first-hand experience when I say there is also a huge investment by the Congress in terms of equipment rooms, wiring, and other facilities that make your work possible. A dozen public servants who staff the galleries and work for the U.S. Congress do nothing but help organizations such as yours.
>This very significant public subsidy of your work makes the issue of copyright somewhat questionable. But, I write today to you on a matter of conscience, not a matter of the law. If C-SPAN were Disney, I might understand (though I would not sympathize with) a desire to milk an asset for every penny allowable by law. But, C-SPAN is not Disney and you should not treat the U.S. Congress like Disney would treat Mickey Mouse.
>C-SPAN is a publicly-supported charity. Your only shareholders are the American public. Your donors received considerable tax relief in making donations to you. You and your staff were well paid for your excellent work. Congressional hearings are of strikingly important public value, and aggressive moves to prevent any fair use of the material is double-dipping on your part. For C-SPAN and for the American public record, the right thing to do is to release all of that material back into the public domain where it belongs.

You can see the full text of the letter here.

For more of Carl Malamud’s outstanding work, follow all the links to his projects that Aaron Swartz has put up here. Also, you can check out Malamud’s “10 Government Hacks” project here.

Thanks to Carl for submitting this letter to us as a tip. Anyone can submit tips to OpenCongress by using the “Send Us a Tip or Suggest a Link” link on the front page.

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