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C-SPAN provides more access, but wants to retain control

As Peggy pointed out here yesterday (C-SPAN Announces New Copyright Policy), C-SPAN has changed its policies to make it easier to use videos of official events sponsored by Congress and federal agencies. This will make C-SPAN videos of congressional hearings and press briefings, federal agency hearings, and presidential events at the White House available for re-use under two conditions: “…will allow non-commercial copying, sharing, and posting of C-SPAN video on the Internet, with attribution.” [emphasis by C-SPAN in its press release]

This is a very interesting issue for government information specialists and not just for the obvious reasons (better public access to more information more easily, access to rich audio-visual content, etc.).

It is also of interest because it raises questions of control. C-SPAN is careful to retain its control of the videos as if it owned them. As Liza Sabater has pointed out (News from C-SPAN posted to Open House Project group by Liza Sabater, Mar 7, 12:45 pm), by only allowing non-commercial use, C-SPAN prohibits use by many bloggers and independent citizen activists:

Bloggers who function as corporations and take in advertising would not be able to use the footage…. If I wanted to use content for parody or a mashup I would not be able to use it because of the little detail of for-profit incorporation.

There is some additional discussion on the Open House Project group discussion list as to the exact legal implications of this, but I believe that the most important point for government information specialists is that C-SPAN is acting as if it owns and can control access to and specify use of this content. While it is very good news that C-SPAN is making this content more freely usable, it is bad news that C-SPAN is not relinquishing its control or “ownership” of the content.

As Liza points out eloquently (Chalk one up for fair use: C-SPAN has agreed to loosen the copyright of the public domain footage they use, CultureKitchen, March 7, 2007):

If they are indeed a non-profit, they have been quite bullish about the “copyright” they hold on the public domain footage they broadcast. Basically they’ve made it impossible to use congressional video footage by having a few seconds of original content a the beginning of all congressional videos, slapping their logo on it and claiming, then it’s their original content.

This should sound familiar to anyone who has dealt with private publishers who repackage government documents, slap a title page on their versions, and claim copyright. We also see repackagers of CRS reports claiming proprietary rights to those reports (Congress has created a bootleg market for CRS Reports, jajacobs 2007-02-20) and even to lists of titles of those reports!

So, to me, the C-SPAN issue is another example of the same fight for control of government information that we have seen before and continue to see today. Even GPO wants to provide government information on a “cost recovery” basis as if it owned that information. The fight with C-SPAN, with publishers, and with the government itself is not over.

Background on recent events:

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