It?s amazing how fast things can change. In April, a transpartisan coalition spearheaded by Stanford Law Professor and EFF Board Member Lawrence Lessig called for the release of presidential debate footage into the public domain. The coalition of Internet luminaries, free speech advocates, conservative and progressive activists and others asked the broadcasters behind the debates to make all footage available to the public for remixing, blogging, commentary, analysis, and parody.
In May, CNN was the first to make footage available to the public and acknowledge the ever-growing number of citizens that are already making use of new forums like YouTube to engage in political debate.
Then, in July, ABC quietly announced that debate footage from its August 5th and August 19th debates would be similarly open to public re-use. And this week, NBC has made debate footage available so long as an MSNBC credit is visible and the use is non-commercial. The footage is freely downloadable from their site.
That leaves CBS and Fox as the lone holdouts. CBS remains undecided, while Fox appears unwilling to relinquish its private control of public debates.
Of course, even without the networks permission, people are free to engage in non-infringing re-uses -- commentary, news reporting, and parody are classic examples of fair use. But uncertainty in the law and threat of litigation can nevertheless have a significant chilling effect on free speech. The willingness of the major networks to explicitly allow expanded use of video content removes that potential threat, and acknowledges the public's rights to its own political culture.