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."