Question on C-SPAN and Copyright of Legislative Proceedings


We’ve gotten a few dozen fascinating applications for mini-grants, including one for Metavid, a project to archive, make shareable and make reusable federal legislative hearings. Sounds like a good project, sounds like something C-SPAN would try to shut down immediately, no? Here’s Metavid’s explanation of how to get around the C-SPAN blockade on the public debate.

In brief, they argue that "the use of artificial scarcity should not be applicable to public domain source content. These restrictions and licensing agreements transform public assets into consumable objects. These consumable objects cannot be reworked, reused and mediated."

The argument seems morally persuasive, but I don’t know the law. Know any public domain lawyers?

Added: Bill McGeveran had this to say a few months ago on the related question of C-SPAN coverage of the Stephen Colbert Press Club affair: "C-SPAN has the legal right to withhold permission for streaming — it is a private initiative of the cable industry, not a government entity. Presumably the network wants to maintain control of its online library of footage. But this seems like a horrifically short-sighted strategy for a network that says its “mission is to provide public access to the political process.”

Michael Dale of Metavid sent this clarifying email:

a minor point of clarification: Bill McGeveran was talking about C-SPAN produced content (Colbert’s routine at the White house correspondence dinner). Metavid captures only House and Senate floor footage which is produced by the government with government cameras and is public domain. C-SPAN rebroadcasts this footage with their trademark we block out the trademark to return the content back to the public domain / reduce the grounds for which C-SPAN can make a claim of trademark infringement and hence control over posting that footage. This trademark removal approach is NOT applicable to anything produced by C-SPAN with their cameras like committee hearings, public events, Washington Journal etc.

We criticize C-SPAN for blurring the line between this public domain material and C-SPAN produced content in their legal threats to online usage of these documents. We aim to make a repository of freely reusable footage of these public domain audio video records.

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