Who owns Congressional video - public or C-Span?

Republicans accuse Pelosi of stealing C-Span-owned material. C-Span clarifies: floor debates are public; hearings are owned by cable network. Confused?

Who owns video footage of Congress? The public or C-Span? It turns out, both. But this copyright question was clarified in typical Washington sniping. The issue exploded when Nancy Pelosi launched a blog, The Gavel, featuring video of House floor debate.

As The New York Times reports, Republicans rushed in and accused her of copyright infringement, claiming that Pelosi lifted the videos from C-Span.

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.

As it turns out, though, one of Pelosi's videos was C-Span property, shot by C-Span cameras at a House committee hearing where Pelosi testified. Although C-Span carries public domain material from the House and Senate floors, C-Span itself shoots hearings.

"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?'"

C-Span had some YouTube gold in May when Stephen Colbert's speech to the White House Correspondents Association garnered 27 million views in two days. But C-Span insisted the video come 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."

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All