C-Span Deal with Google Suggests Greater Restrictions on Access to Public Affairs Footage

How much control should C-Span exert over access to it's public affairs broadcasts? Noam Cohen has written an interesting article in the NYT regarding C-Span's efforts to control the distribution of Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents dinner. Apparently C-Span has issued take-down requests to and, asking that they remove their copies of the Colbert footage, and they have entered into a deal with Google, giving Google the right to show it, but only as part of the longer full event, which would include President Bush's well recieved performance. C-Span is also selling a DVD of the event for $24.95.

There are a number of troubling aspects of this deal, and it goes beyond this particular event. Google's Peter Chane is quoted as saying "C-Span has some very, very unique content," which is true, of course. C-Span broadcasts debates in the US Congress, plus a number of DC-based press conferences and public affairs events. The ownership and control over the best record of these events is important, and not just for commerical reasons.

C-Span claims it has a copyright in these events, and even if it doesn't have a copyright in some broadcasts, it would get a new intellectual property in material it broadcasts, under a new treaty that WIPO is considering.

Increasingly, our whole culture is being privatized in ways that restrict speech and make it difficult to engage in criticism, documentaries or other commentary.

Some of these issues are presented very well in a comic book titled bound by law regarding copyright problems that film makers face, written by three law professors, Keith Aoki, James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins.

This is more evidence that we need to heed calls for new debates over the limits of copyright, and the importance of the public domain, or the public's rights to use certain materials for debate, commentary or criticism. Will any political party take on copyright and other intellectual property rights (such as the WIPO xcasting treaty) as political, and not simply commerical issues?