The Pelosi Precedent

Last month I looked at a story of copyright infringement involving Speaker Nancy Pelosi and C-SPAN – Speaker Pelosi’s Copyright/Trademark Problem. After laying out the case that Speaker Pelosi had indeed posted C-SPAN copyrighted materials, and that the network had not acted against her as it had done against others I made the following statement:

I’m of the opinion that the content that C-SPAN has aggressively worked to protect over the years really should be available to the public, and this may ultimately help the next blogger who gets a take-down notice from C-SPAN’s lawyers. The real question in this case is would C-SPAN be so generous if if wasn’t the Speaker’s office posting the videos?

We intend to find out…

For readers that’s where the story ended, but I was serious when I said that we intended to get to the bottom of this. The investigation continued in a series of e-mails between Wizbang and C-SPAN. I’ve published some of the more important of those below.

From: Kevin Aylward

Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 2:59 PM
To: COLLINS, BRUCE
Subject: Speaker Pelosi Video

Regarding the copyright/trademark issues surrounding the YouTube uploading by Speaker Pelosi’s office I have a few questions.

  1. You site makes clear that you do not consider any of your material public domain. How can you square that with your statements to the press yesterday?
  2. Has Speaker Pelosi’s office obtained a special use license? If so, what did they pay? If not, what is the value of the 250+ videos they’ve posted to YouTube?
  3. If, as you claim, this C-SPAN branded material is public domain, may I (and other bloggers) freely upload C-SPAN content of floor and committee content to YouTube as the Speaker has?
  4. If that content is now freely postable to YouTube, how do you square that with your prior “vigorous enforcement” of copyright and trademark violations?

Our story on the video’s is here.

Your answers will be published.

Here was the response I received from Bruce Collins, C-SPAN Corporate Vice President & General Counsel.

From: COLLINS, BRUCE

Sent: Friday, February 16, 2007 9:26 AM
To: Kevin Aylward
Subject: RE: Speaker Pelosi Video

The premise of your position is incorrect.

In 25 years C-SPAN has never claimed a copyright in the video of the floor proceedings of the US House. As government-produced video, the floor debates are in the public domain.

However, C-SPAN does hold the exclusive copyright in all of the programming it produces including its congressional hearings coverage, its event coverage and its in-studio programs.

The C-SPAN logo appears on the public domain video coverage of the House debates to inform viewers they are receiving it from C-SPAN. The use of the logo does not assert or confer copyrighted status on the video.

All of our enforcement or non-enforcement of our intellectual property rights are consistent with the position I’ve described here.

As you are now probably aware, there is much public confusion about the distinction between the programs C-SPAN produces and the government-produced House floor video. It is an unfortunate confusion that has led to many inaccurate and often unfair statements about C-SPAN as we try to fulfill our public service mission. I hope I have cleared up some of the confusion for you.

Bruce D. Collins
Corporate Vice President & General Counsel
C-SPAN

Here is my response to that message.

From: Kevin Aylward

Sent: Saturday, February 17, 2007 1:41 AM
To: COLLINS, BRUCE
Subject: Speaker Pelosi Video

As I understand your position the Speaker (or anyone else) may post video captures of C-SPAN programming when that programming is provided to C-SPAN via government cameras. Of course knowing when that is the case is the problem…

Given that C-SPAN has indicated there is no issue with the Speaker’s video postings, I’m trying to square up the content her office has posted with your statements. Looking at the videos posted by the Speaker – http://www.youtube.com/profile_videos?user=NancyPelosi – I’ve come across several that are not just floor speeches.

A couple examples:

Murtha Iraq Supplemental Hearings (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdBg1DeJzNc) – this is from C-SPAN, but not floor coverage. You seemed to indicate that all committee coverage is filmed by C-SPAN.

H.R. 5 Passes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLRhxNM1LUo) – This is floor coverage, with C-SPAN content framing House footage.

Senator Jim Webb Responds to the President (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Exkq5ulEL9Q ) – this appears to be C-SPAN produced content.

I realize that the initial inquiry to you concerned the Speaker’s blog, and that the content on the front page (as of today) consists solely of floor speeches. I’ve been looking at the Speaker’s YouTube account.

The issue I’ve been pursuing is that those videos (on the blog) are but a tiny portion of the number of videos uploaded by her office. By my understanding of your position many of the videos posted on YouTube by the Speakers office do infringe on C-SPAN copyrights. Is that correct?

My question is answered in today’s story from the AP that Speaker Pelosi did indeed violate C-SPAN’s copyrights.

It turns out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did violate C-SPAN’s copyright by using its televised footage on her blog promoting Democrats.

Officials for the cable TV network that provides daily gavel-to-gavel coverage of House and Senate proceedings at first said the blog was in violation, then announced it wasn’t when C-SPAN footage of last month’s Iraq debate in the House was posted on it.

On Wednesday, they said her blog had violated C-SPAN’s copyright, but in a different instance. They added that C-SPAN is changing its policy so that won’t be a violation in the future.

The new copyright policy will allow non-commercial Internet users to share and post C-SPAN video as long as they attribute it to the public service channel.

“Given our background and our history, an open approach is the most consistent with our mission,” said Rob Kennedy, C-SPAN’s president. “We are now saying under the new policy that that will be OK for her or any blogger or citizen journalist” to post C-SPAN video online.

While others were trying to score partisan points, we very quickly realized that this was an opportunity to force C-SPAN to address, once and for all, it’s history of aggressively pursing copyright claims on both C-SPAN and government produced content. C-SPAN was put in the position of either: A) Applying the same copyright takedown notices that it has used in the past to the Speaker Pelosi, or B) Liberalizing it’s copyright stance.

We’re glad they chose the latter.

Update: To those commenters on the original story who mocked me for pursing this story when it appeared to be dead – our initial reporting was done after the RSC press release was pulled – I think the results speak to the validity of my initial assessment. C-SPAN’s initial statements most clearly did not “resolve” the matter, in fact they only muddied the issue. Highlighting the non-partisan nature of the issue, I was aided in the investigation by Lee, one of Wizbang’s regular liberal commenters. We both knew that there was a bigger issue behind the initial story, and as I outlined in the e-mails there were real copyright issue with what the Speaker’s office had posted to YouTube. Even before he had seen those e-mails, Lee understood the issue:

If Kevin is smart he’ll stay on this and see where it leads him. Who’s to say Bruce Collins is correct, or that Collins’ policy has always been applied uniformly and fairly?

Kevin may be on the trail of something, or maybe not – but he shouldn’t give up just because Bruce Collins blew the whistle and declared “game over”.

Because we didn’t accept the initial “game over” answer bloggers across the political spectrum can now use (with attribution) all C-SPAN content. You can thank us later…

Update 2: From C-SPAN’s policy announcement:

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.

In addition, C-SPAN also announced plans to significantly build out its capitolhearings.org website as a one-stop resource for Congressionally-produced webcasts of House and Senate committee and subcommittee hearings.

C-SPAN Executive Committee Chairman William J. Bresnan, CEO of Bresnan Communications said that the network’s directors enthusiastically endorsed the copyright policy liberalization. “The C-SPAN board sees this as helping us carry out C-SPAN’s public service mission,’ he said. “The cable industry created this network to allow citizens greater access to their government and this enhancement appropriately reflects the rapid changes in the online information world.”

…The new C-SPAN policy borrows from the approach to copyright known in the online community as “Creative Commons.” Examples of events included under C-SPAN’s new expanded policy include all congressional hearings and press briefings, federal agency hearings, and presidential events at the White House. C-SPAN’s copyright policy will not change for the network’s studio productions, all non-federal events, campaign and political event coverage, and the network’s feature programming, such as Book TV and original history series.

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