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Copyright Confusion Ensnares Pelosi

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House Republicans recently complained in a press release that Nancy Pelosi was infringing on copyrights by posting video material from C-Span on The Gavel, the Speaker of the House’s web site. Turns out that all but one of the clips was actually public domain footage, and the release was retracted. But as a New York Times article points out, this raises further questions about C-Span’s role as a private company that purports to serve the public.

C-SpanWhile the Republican’s motives were transparently political and patently disingenuous, they weren’t surprising in light of attacks on Pelosi since she took the House reins as speaker. But then again, when it comes to rights-holder advocacy, the Democratic Party isn’t exactly a bunch of copyfighters — after all, Hollywood and New York media moguls are some of the most generous contributors to the Democrats’ campaign and lobbying coffers.

But what does this mean for policy programming? I’ve been a C-Span viewer since I was a teenager, and since there were no commercials and nothing but soporific policy discussion, I’d assumed it was all public domain. That is, until the company issued a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube after Stephen Colbert’s White House Press Corps Dinner appearance was a viral hit on the site last year. The deal is, all materials produced by the government are automatically in the public domain, but C-Span’s cameras are owned by the network and therefore their footage is copyright.

Silicon Valley Watcher’s Richard Korman suggests that with individual representatives and many committees now recording proceedings themselves, “it’s not clear that there’s any longer a public benefit to handing over Congressional hearings to a for-profit company.” I would suggest that C-Span upgrade from their current Real Video and Windows Media streams to an embeddable Flash player — much like cable network Comedy Central has done.

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