When I posted a video clip of Hillary Clinton’s talk at the Keene High School, which I’d TiVo’d from our community access cable station, I wasn’t entirely sure it was OK to do that. But when I asked Lee Perkins who runs Cheshire TV he said absolutely, go for it.
The following week I was puzzled by a New York Times primer on which C-Span videos can, or cannot, be excerpted and reposted. Apparently only the “5 to 15 percent” of C-Span’s programming that’s from the House and Senate floor is considered to be in the public domain. Here was C-Span VP and general counsel Bruce Collins’ explanation:
What I think a lot of people don’t understand — C-Span is a business, just like CNN is,” Mr. Collins said. “If we don’t have a revenue stream, we wouldn’t have six crews ready to cover Congressional hearings.
I wondered about that, but lacked context. Now Carl Malamud has provided the missing context. In a stunning letter to C-Span’s president and CEO Brian Lamb, which includes the above quote, Malamud points out that C-Span is supported not only by its revenues operating as a nonprofit business, but also by “considerable public largesse.” Taxpayers, Malamud argues, are footing the bill for much of the facilities, wiring, and equipment that enable C-Span’s camera crews to do their work.
I thus write to you today with a specific request and a notice:
- Your inventory shows 6,251 videos of congressional hearings for sale in the C-SPAN store at an average price of $169.50, for a total retail value of approximately $1,059,544. I am offering today to purchase this collection of discs from you for the purpose of ripping and posting on the Internet in a nonproprietary format for reuse by anybody. I understand your store would take a while to process such an order and am willing to place it in stages.
- I have purchased Disc 192720-1 from the C-SPAN store, ripped more than one minute of video from the disc, and used it for the creation of a news and satirical commentary of compelling public interest and then posted the resulting work at the Internet Archive. I did not ask C-SPAN for a license and I assert fair use of this material.
Mr. Lamb, C-SPAN has been a pioneer in promoting a more open government. You
created a grand bargain with the Cable Industry and the U.S. Congress. When I
created the first radio station on the Internet and was asked why I did so as a non-profit instead of going for the gold like many of my colleagues, my reply has always been that I was inspired by your example.
Your grand bargain has served the American people and the C-SPAN organization well. Holding congressional hearings hostage is not in keeping with your charter, and it is not in keeping with the spirit of that grand bargain you made with the American people. Please re-release this material back into the public domain where it came from so that it will continue to make our public civic life richer.