06 March 2007

Real Openness, Real Guts

Carl Malamud is one of the original digital pioneers, probably best-known for founding Internet Multicasting Service and Internet Talk Radio. But as well as the technology, he also has the moral side covered too.

Try reading this astonshing letter to the head of C-SPAN, following discussions about fair use of its recordings. It concludes with the following bold offer:

C-SPAN is a publicly-supported charity. Your only shareholders are the American public. Your donors received considerable tax relief in making donations to you. You and your staff were well paid for your excellent work. Congressional hearings are of strikingly important public value, and aggressive moves to prevent any fair use of the material is double-dipping on your part. For C-SPAN and for the American public record, the right thing to do is to release all of that material back into the public domain where it belongs.

I thus write to you today with a specific request and a notice:

1. Your inventory shows 6,251 videos of congressional hearings for sale in the C-SPAN store at an average price of $169.50, for a total retail value of approximately $1,059,544. I am offering today to purchase this collection of discs from you for the purpose of ripping and posting on the Internet in a nonproprietary format for reuse by anybody. I understand your store would take a while to process such an order and am willing to place it in stages.
2. I have purchased Disc 192720-1 from the C-SPAN store, ripped more than one minute of video from the disc, and used it for the creation of a news and satirical commentary of compelling public interest and then posted the resulting work at the Internet Archive. I did not ask C-SPAN for a license and I assert fair use of this material.

Mr. Lamb, C-SPAN has been a pioneer in promoting a more open government. You created a grand bargain with the Cable Industry and the U.S. Congress. When I created the first radio station on the Internet and was asked why I did so as a non-profit instead of going for the gold like many of my colleagues, my reply has always been that I was inspired by your example.

Your grand bargain has served the American people and the C-SPAN organization well. Holding congressional hearings hostage is not in keeping with your charter, and it is not in keeping with the spirit of that grand bargain you made with the American people. Please re-release this material back into the public domain where it came from so that it will continue to make our public civic life richer.

Sincerely yours,

Carl Malamud

(Via Jon Udell.)

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