The Open House Project from The Sunlight Foundation

Who Owns What C-Span Airs?

February 27th, 2007 by Nancy Scola · 2 Comments

The Speaker of House and the Republican Study Group have been going back and forth over Pelosi’s use of a few C-Span video clips. Muddy, muddy situation. But what’s clear is that nobody on Capitol Hill understands who “owns” what we see on C-Span.

It’s confusing, no doubt. To start, proceedings on the House and Senate floor are shot by government cameras, operated by government employees. What C-Span does is grab that feed, mark it with their trademark, and air it. But the actual feed is public domain — that “lawyer-free zone” where people shouldn’t even give a second thought about using remixing and using content however makes them happy. You might wonder, how do we citizens get our hands on that raw feed? But that might be over thinking it. A project called Metavid suggests it’s okay re-use C-Span’s feed as long as their proprietary markings are scraped off first.

As for committee hearings, they’re a whole different story. House rules allows broadcasters to film their own feeds. C-Span, as a private, non-profit company, is one of those broadcasters. They record hearings with their own cameras and vigorously assert rights to that content. It’s a C-Span-recorded clip of a committee hearing on global warming posted on the Speaker’s new blog, the Gavel, that C-Span is objecting to. Right now, about half of the House’s Committee’s webcast their hearings, and they can’t restrict their use in any way — because government works aren’t subject to copyright.

The same restrictions go for other non-Hill events that C-Span covers. Their cameras, their feed. Which is why C-Span could have a clip of Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner pulled down from YouTube.

This is a discussion that needs to be had. Confusion over copyright sows fear, and fear creates a chilling effect (which is a whole different discussion, to be sure). For heck’s sake, the Speaker’s office — home to a more than a few lawyers — can’t figure out what the rules are here. When it comes to witnessing democracy, then we need to make it clear what the rules of the game are.

In fact, when dealing with C-Span, the basic rules should be as simple as those of soccer. Forget off-sides all those other nuances — everyone knows you just kick the ball into the net and try not to use your hands. Kids take to soccer like fish to water because they can easily wrap their minds around how the game’s supposed to go. Simple rules means everybody plays. And when it comes to engaging in the democratic process, “everybody plays” is the goal.

Tags: OpenHouse

2 responses so far ↓

  • Steven Clift’s Notes - Democracies Online » Blog Archive » Taking a Byte into Congress - OpenCongress.Org, and more // Mar 1, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    [...] Perhaps the most important project I’ve seen come along in U.S. e-democracy circles in years is which is organizing people to pick apart the legislative process and all of the strategic information components in order to make Congress truly transparent online. I will personally judge the new leadership in Congress on whether they are really living up to their promise to run a more ethical and open Congress on the speed with which they embrace this project and give a clear management green light to House and Senate institutions to actively participate and “open up the house.” With the new Speaker of the House getting guff over putting C-SPAN clips on her blog and other folks discovering that sharing of Congressional committee video use is often restricted, the devil is in the details. [...]

  • C-SPAN Loosens Reins on Copyright Control | The Open House Project // Mar 7, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    [...] It’s important to remember that, when it comes to C-SPAN, we’re really talking about two kinds of content. One is the “official events” mentioned above — that’s the stuff recorded by C-SPAN-owned cameras. This includes congressional hearings, press briefings, that sort of thing. What’s still a bit unclear today is whether the rules of the game have changed at all for the coverage of the House and Senate floor that C-SPAN also distributes. As we’ve talked about before, what C-SPAN is doing there is packaging and branding the public domain feed shot by government-own cameras. More clarity on that content would indeed still be welcomed. [...]

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