Saturday, February 11, 2006

Does "Fair Use" include the right to know inconvenient things?

Apparently the editorial gnomes at the NFL work very quickly, cutting controversial material out of the TiVo Comcast Video On Demand stream of the Super Bowl. Apparently, having been burned by the breast blowout two years ago, they've gotten extra cautious about allowing access to the raw, if you will, footage.

Is this "fair," asks Pooh?

I think, unfortunately, that "fair use" doctrine doesn't apply, unless there's some kind of contractual obligation of TiVo Comcast to stream everything unedited; the right of broadcasters to edit presentations, even live ones, is pretty broad. I never really considered TiVo Video on Demand as an option before -- not enough TV watching, honestly, to be worth the money -- but this really puts a crimp into my desire to allow another layer of filtration.

But the broader question -- does this mean that we can't rely on corporations to provide honest reportage of important events if such honesty is in any way inconvenient -- is entirely relevant and the answer is: no, we never could rely on corporations to police themselves. We must police them, by legal and economic means.

Speaking of information freedom: Normally, the idea of government-run media brings up images of censorship and cheerleading, but the Voice of America has been, like the BBC, one of the great news organizations of the world, and a valuable tool for getting out a pretty honest picture of American life and politics to parts of the world where the press is considerably less free and thorough than the West. But the news business has changed: you don't have to have transmitters, satellites, etc. to be a global news source when you have the internet. So now, the VOA is competing with other US news sources for international attention and the idea of a non-profit government agency taking away revenue from Turner, Murdoch, etc., is anathema to Republicans in Congress (among others). So they've defunded the VOA's English Bureaus, effectively turning over control of the American international image to corporations whose political and financial goals are not those of the American people.

And, if freedom of information is important to you, consider this [via, who undersells it terribly]: the closing of previously public information will make things more difficult for researchers, who include harmless historians (well, mostly harmless) and epidemiologists (harmless unless you're a major environmental polluter).

Finally: The Washington Post -- a pretty good paper, by modern standards -- can't quite handle blogs or comments without censorship and doubletalk. And the Bush Administration now considers opposition bloggers a strategic threat, so when will they act on that?


Pooh said...

FWIW, I think you are misconstruing "fair use" slightly. It would be your (or any ohter 3rd party's) right to cut together a 'highlight package' from the raw footage had you saved (and your right to save it for that purpose in the first place), just as my quoting a few grafs from what is (presumably) a copywrited work is fair use as long as I give proper attribution.

With respect to sporting events, for example, the standard "any pictures, descriptions or accounts without the expressed, written consent" disclaimer is massively overbroad for protecting the broadcaster's interests (and almost certainly unenforceable around the edges.)

Ahistoricality said...

Well, actually, it's your original source which is misconstruing it, I think. Nowhere in this discussion has anyone suggested that individuals can't review or archive material they've recorded, but clearly the Comcast/NFL folks decided that they didn't want to give people the opportunity -- where they could avoid it.

Anonymous said...

Actually, that's the whole point. Lawmakers are in the process of doing just that. Take, for instance, the "Broadcast Flag." The purpose of the "Broadcast Flag" was to give broadcasters such as ABC the ability to embed a digital flag into the stream. This flag, by law, would limit what you, the consumer, could do with that information. You *wouldn't* have been able to cut together your own clip and share your take on the event. Fortunately, the first incarnation of the BF was defeated. However, it's resurfaced.


(the author)

Ahistoricality said...

And copy protection for CDs, DVDs, software, etc. falls into the same category a lot of the time. I agree. But that wasn't really the issue this time....