Something interesting has emerged from last week's skewering of the president and the press by Stephen Colbert: the fact that C-SPAN, the "public affairs" cable network who claims to be all about the people's business, is claiming copyright over the material shown on YouTube (which we linked to here).
On Wednesday, C-Span, the nonprofit network that first showed Mr. Colbert's speech, wrote letters to the video sites YouTube.com and ifilm.com, demanding that the clips of the speech be taken off their Web sites....
...After the clips of Mr. Colbert's performance were ordered taken down at YouTube â€” where 41 clips of the speech had been viewed a total of 2.7 million times in less than 48 hours, according to the site â€” there were rumblings on left-wing sites that someone was trying to silence a man who dared to speak truth to power.
But as became clear later in the week, this was a business decision, not a political one. Not only is the entire event available to be streamed at C-Span's Web site, c-span.org, but the network is selling DVD's of the event for $24.95, including speeches and a comedy routine by President Bush with a President Bush imitator.
And C-Span gave permission to Google Videos to carry the Colbert speech beginning Friday. The arrangement, which came with the stipulation that Google Videos provide the entire event and a clip of Mr. Bush's entire routine as well, is a one-time deal. In other words: ka-ching!
Money talks, and the people walk, people. I'm tempted to add, "C-SPAN wants you to get all the content that corporations can buy from them," but that would be a step ahead.
But what really is disturbing here is that money-making opportunities immediately and completely trumped the purportedly "public affairs" focus of C-SPAN.
On Friday, Xeni at BoingBoing wrote:
It's still available all over the place on blogs, USENET groups, and via BitTorrent (all of those methods = without permission), and via CSPAN's own website. I still don't understand why CSPAN won't let YouTube users upload copies to that service, but it does appear to be well within their rights to make that decision.But really, is that the case? Does a non-profit public affairs organization that claims to be all about presenting the people's business to the people have the "right" to play favorites in presenting online content? On what basis?
Writes Mike at theBlince:
Supposedly, C-SPAN didn't want a non-copywrighted [sic] version of the video out there on the Internet. I scanned the Google Video version and didn't notice any differences from the version I blogged about last week on YouTube.
I think the only way this can be interpreted is that somebody at Google knows somebody at C-SPAN.Mike adds:
I could see C-SPAN not allowing anybody to post its video, but removing it from YouTube and allowing it on Google Video smacks of hypocrisy.No kidding.
Times reporter Noam Cohn claims that decision is not political:
Not only is the entire event available to be streamed at C-Span's Web site, c-span.org, but the network is selling DVD's of the event for $24.95, including speeches and a comedy routine by President Bush with a President Bush imitator.
And C-Span gave permission to Google Videos to carry the Colbert speech beginning Friday. The arrangement, which came with the stipulation that Google Videos provide the entire event and a clip of Mr. Bush's entire routine as well, is a one-time deal.
But how is this not a political statement? Mr. Cohn's positive spin on this decision misses some obvious facts.
C-SPAN is making an editorial statement by requiring the entire dinner presentation to be shown in its entirety. Why? Are we not allowed to highlight one segment any more? Did news organizations receive the same cease and desist letters for showing only Bush and the look-alike? Or were only the presenters of Colbert's satire deemed to be transgressing C-SPAN's newly-flexed copyright?
Let's be realistic: How many people who were eager to see the videos online are going to buy C-SPAN's DVD? Not many. So the real issue here, when it comes to YouTube and iFilm, is that Google came in and bought exclusive rights from C-SPAN -- and the result is that, if people want to view something online that was aired on C-SPAN, they have to go to Google.
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.Is this the new tone of C-SPAN? Are the events they are the people's business? Or do We the People only get to view and share things only if no global corporation has put down a few bucks to prevent it?
Welcome to "the ownership society," people. This is where the people who "own" -- and have the lawyers to threaten anyone who disagrees -- have the rights, and the rest of us can twist in the wind.