The introduction began awkwardly this month when the House Republican Study Committee issued a news release accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of "pirating" 16 copyrighted clips of House floor debate from the public affairs network C-Span by including them on .
Shortly after the news release was distributed by e-mail, C-Span corrected the record to say that House and Senate floor debates are "government works," shot by government-owned cameras, and thus in the public domain. The Republican committee promptly sent out a news release to withdraw the accusation against Pelosi's office.
The speaker's spokesman, Brendan Daly, used the opportunity to decry "yet another baseless attack of the Republicans; in this case they have retracted it."
But last week, as it happens, C-Span did contact the speaker's office to have it take down a different clip from her blog--one shot by C-Span's cameras at a House Science and Technology Committee hearing on global warming where Pelosi testified, Daly said. (The blog has substituted material filmed by the committee's cameras, he said.)
C-Span, a private nonprofit company financed by the cable and satellite affiliates that carry its programming, says that over more than 25 years of operating it has consistently asserted its copyright to any material it shoots with its own cameras. But that message can get lost.
"We are structurally burdened, in terms of people's perception, because we are the only network that has such a big chunk of public domain material," said Bruce Collins, the corporate vice president and general counsel of C-Span. He estimated that 5 percent to 15 percent of C-Span's programming is from the House and Senate floor, and thus publicly available.
"It is perfectly understandable to me that people would be confused," he said. "They say, 'When a congressman says something on the floor it is public domain, but he walks down the street to a committee hearing or give a speech and it is not public domain?'"
The issue is of recent vintage for C-Span. In May, C-Span said that it had for first time asserted its copyright against a video-clip site, ordering YouTube toin front of President Bush at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Clips of the speech had been viewed 2.7 million times in the 48 hours before it was taken down.
"What I think a lot of people don't understand--C-Span is a business, just like CNN is," Collins said. "If we don't have a revenue stream, we wouldn't have six crews ready to cover Congressional hearings."
Without use of C-Span's material,will have to rely on government cameras to get their message out.
Daly said that the speaker's office had its own camera operator and that 11 of 21 House committees can Webcast their hearings, with the goal that all will be able to do so.
On that, even Pelosi's critics agreed. "The Republican Study Committee, Republicans in general, would favor more transparency," said the committee's spokesman, Brad Dayspring. "We heard that the committees are moving in that direction--conservatives would support that."