In a welcome move of openness, C-SPAN has announced a liberalized copyright assertion policy:
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.
The new C-SPAN policy borrows from the approach to copyright known in the online community as "Creative Commons." 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.
This seems much smarter than going after members of Congress for blogging the network's footage of Congressional hearings. C-SPAN often provides the only window into the workings of our government. Now, those windows are more clearly open.
Update: Thanks to Carl Malamud for publicly pressing C-SPAN to do the right thing here.
There's a difference between copyright assertion and copyright ownership. Like William Patry, I would have defended Speaker Pelosi's un-permissioned use of C-SPAN videos of Congressional hearings as non-infringing or as fair use. She, however, she chose to take them down and replace them (at some trouble or expense) with alternate videos from committee cameras in response to C-SPAN's assertion.
As Speaker Pelosi's story indicates, whether or not C-SPAN has a copyright in the minimal creativity of positioning cameras before a government hearing, its copyright claims prevented some people from using the streams. That chill operates as a law in itself, reducing the discourse around political events from what it could be if people felt secure in their non-infringing use of videos. C-SPAN's announcement can reduce the uncertainty. We need not concede that the videos are protected by copyright to welcome a promise not to assert copyright claims.