C-SPAN’s Resistance to Internet Streaming

Video sites YouTube and IFILM have agreed to take down popular clips of Stephen Colbert’s routine at the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner, as demanded by the somewhat stodgier C-SPAN. (AP report via Wired News here.) It turns out that C-SPAN owns the copyright to the entire dinner. The Colbert routine is posted on the network’s own web site, which also hosts a policy wonk’s dream video library. It is also posted on Google Video (under an agreement that requires Google to place prominent links to C-SPAN’s web site).

C-SPAN defends its actions here, saying:

Our goal in enforcing our copyright has been and continues to be to ensure that C-SPAN’s reputation for unbiased coverage of the political process is maintained.

This is not an isolated problem. As I have learned from broadcasters while working on the Berkman Center’s project on educational uses of content, C-SPAN generally denies permission for anyone to use its footage in internet streaming, even those willing to pay for a license. In one apparently typical instance, congressional testimony about illegal drugs had to be cut from the online version of an episode of the public television series Frontline. That’s a lot more serious than a stand-up comic routine.

C-SPAN has the legal right to withhold permission for streaming — it is a private initiative of the cable industry, not a government entity. Presumably the network wants to maintain control of its online library of footage.

But this seems like a horrifically short-sighted strategy for a network that says its “mission is to provide public access to the political process.” And I don’t see how licensing raw tape of events in Washington (as opposed to call-in shows or something else with editorial content) could compromise “C-SPAN’s reputation for unbiased coverage of the political process.”

The Beyond Broadcast conference at Berkman this week will consider how traditional media institutions can adapt and thrive in the new environment of digital public media. Maybe C-SPAN executives should tune in.

3 Responses to “C-SPAN’s Resistance to Internet Streaming”

  1. As you note, C-Span is an enterprise established and supported by the cable television industry, presumably ultimately because it offers a value-added feature for cable TV subscribers. It is thus unsurprising that C-Span would be reluctant to allow unrestricted retransmission over non-cable company facilities, even if there were no concerns about re-use of C-Span produced material in partisan contexts that would be inconsistent with C-Span’s (legitimately important) non-partisan image.

  2. We are de-trade marking C-SPAN’s footage of public domain material, putting it back into the public domain.

    We leverage the university Intellectual Property resources to confront c-span on their appropriation of public domain material, and have so far been successful in de-appropriating this public domain footage.

    We have been distributing it in its entirety in both streamable and broadcast quality in a all open source patent free video streaming solution. Additionally the archive system we use to distribute the footage is all open sources and encourages participatory mediations or scripts on the meta data that we harvest through close captions and onscreen text. For example one overlay pulls in campaign contribution data for the given speaker and displays it along side the video clips.


  3. […] That’s the same routine that, as I wrote previously, C-SPAN demanded be taken down from YouTube and IFILM, consistent with its general policy against permissions for internet streaming. Apparently, though, the revenue goes to Audible.com, which distributes C-SPAN content. Snippets from the Times: C-Span says it owns anything it films with its own cameras — that is, everything that appears on its three channels except for what is said on the floor of the House and Senate, where government cameras are used. […]