What we get vs. what we deserve—C-SPAN responds to Carl Malamud

C-SPAN has promised to relicense the Congressional and federal agency footage under a more amenable license: (emphasis theirs)

C-SPAN is introducing a liberalized copyright policy for current, future, and past coverage of any official events sponsored by Congress and any federal agency– about half of all programming offered on the C-SPAN television networks–which will allow non-commercial copying, sharing, and posting of C-SPAN video on the Internet, with attribution.

So many of the salient details are left out, I’ll hold my thanks to C-SPAN until I learn precisely what they’re distributing and under what license. License choice, quality of source material, reliability of footage stamping (it’s routine for C-SPAN to stick an “All Rights Reserved” at the end of their footage), and more will all have to be addressed. It’s not clear if they’ll make high-quality footage available through their website, through a willing carrier (like The Internet Archive), or leave it up to the public to digitize a relatively poor signal and upload it to others.

They say Creative Commons somehow inspired them to do this (The new C-SPAN policy borrows from the approach to copyright known in the online community as “Creative Commons.”). But I suspect something else is going on. Carl Malamud recently put pointed questions to C-SPAN essentially asking them to justify their restrictions when the American cable-subscribing public covers most if not all of C-SPAN’s bills.

Therefore I have to wonder: if we’re covering their costs (at least), why aren’t we getting completely unfettered access to all of C-SPAN’s works even for commercial use?

C-SPAN’s announcement gives examples of what we will and won’t get increased access to:

Examples of events included under C-SPAN’s new expanded policy include all congressional hearings and press briefings, federal agency hearings, and presidential events at the White House. C-SPAN’s copyright policy will not change for the network’s studio productions, all non-federal events, campaign and political event coverage, and the network’s feature programming, such as Book TV and original history series.

Why are these works copyrightable at all? I’m bothered by this because it means that this situation could change; later on this copyright license can be discontinued or altered to take away the freedoms we are being promised in these works. Thus works licensed under the revised license are less advantageous to us. I’m also curious why we’re not getting the freedom to distribute derivative works. A practical side-effect of this is that C-SPAN can challenge our fair use by calling it copyright infringement.