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Liberating & Restricting C-SPAN's Floor Footage 97

Posted by timothy
from the bye-bye-insomnia dept.
bigmammoth writes "C-SPAN's bid to "liberate" the House and Senate floor footage has re-emerged and been shot down. In an aim to build support a recent New York Times editorial called for reality TV for congress. But what is missing from this editorial is the issue of privatization and the subsequent restriction of meaningful access to these media assets. Currently the U.S. government produces this floor footage and it is public domain. This enables projects such as metavid to publicly archive these media assets in high-quality Ogg Theora using all open source software, guaranteeing freely reusable access to both the archive and all the media assets. In contrast C-SPAN's view-only online offerings disappear into their pay for access archive after two weeks and are then subject to many restrictions." (Continues)
"If C-SPAN succeeds, reusable access to floor footage will be lost and sites such as metavid will be forced to stop archiving. Because of C-SPAN's zealous IP enforcement metavid has already been forced to take down all already 'liberated' committee hearings which are C-SPAN produced. Fortunately, the house leadership sees private cameras as a loss of 'dignity and decorum' and will be denying C-SPAN's request."
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Liberating & Restricting C-SPAN's Floor Footage

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  • ...That misread that as C-PAN, and couldn't figure out what Perl had to do with the senate. Ugh, it's far too early in the morning for rational thought.
  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @08:07AM (#17375272)
    the house leadership sees private cameras as a loss of 'dignity and decorum'


    If you've got nothing to hide...
    • by aussie_a (778472) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @08:12AM (#17375288) Journal
      Err... they're videotaping anyway. The only difference is who gets to own the tape afterwards. The public or some private company that's seeking to maximize its own profits at the expense of the freedoms of the people.

      I don't see how they're avoiding they're "own poison" and "hiding stuff."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)
        I don't see how they're avoiding they're "own poison" and "hiding stuff."

        If anything, I am surprised that they are refusing to privatize this information. I would expect any congressthief to jump at the chance of private ownership of the recordings, because that's just one step away from only releasing edited footage. I guess C-SPAN just hasn't hired a lobbyist who can explain that clearly enough.

        I suggest they hire George Orwell to lobby this issue, he said it pretty well:

        Who controls the past controls

        • by aussie_a (778472)
          I think Congress is waiting for a bigger bribe.
        • by LuYu (519260)

          If anything, I am surprised that they are refusing to privatize this information. I would expect any congressthief to jump at the chance of private ownership of the recordings, because that's just one step away from only releasing edited footage. I guess C-SPAN just hasn't hired a lobbyist who can explain that clearly enough.

          It appears to me that this is a conflict of two distinct issues. C-SPAN wants to a) copyright the information and b) control the cameras. While the activists are right to object

      • Let's see--a company providing live, unedited footage as it happens, or a Congress that often starts its speeches with a call for the ability to edit the record later before it's released to the public ("at the expense of the freedoms of the people"). Apparently, you are 100% for the latter.

        They are absolutely hiding stuff. Congress edits its record all the time before it's released. C-SPAN messes that all up, and Nancy Pelosi ain't gonna have that happening in her "most open and ethical Congress in hist
      • by MidoriKid (473433)
        All is not as it appears. C-SPAN wants to cover everything that happens on the floor. As it is now the House controlled cameras don't cover the entire room and are forbidden from certain areas all together. No pan or zoom and broadcast of votes is delayed by two hours.

        What's the point of free access to archived footage if you can't tell what is actually happening?
    • by msobkow (48369)

      If they act anything like Canadian Parliament used to, they should be embarassed. They're far too old to be acting like kindergarteners fighting over scraps of pork-barrel lunch.

      Taxes from the general public pay the politicians and all government services. The people own the media, not some artificial corporation designed to get around FOI legislation.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      That house leadership being Nancy Pelosi. Now, what happened to all those pre-election promises about "the most open and ethical Congress in history?" After Murtha and other corrupt Democrats, now we find another promise broken. What a lame-duck House Speaker.

      It will be interesting to see if all the anti-Bush Slashdotters who rattled on and on about the evil Republicans and their closed access will turn those criticisms onto the new Democratic Congress which is already divided between old-school liberals
      • by rhizome (115711)
        From your usage of "lame-duck" (this word, it does not mean...), it comes as no surprise that you don't see another layer of "politician" that covers all parties. It's an old principle of power to find ways of turning the constituents against each other and it looks like you've fallen for the partisan bait.
      • by Baricom (763970)
        I'm actually very comfortable trading congresscritter reaction shots and wide sweeping pans of the chambers for public domain footage that's not encumbered by copyright.
    • by rhizome (115711)
      If you've got nothing to hide...

      Funny how a problematic rationale sounds pretty good when the shoe is on the other foot, eh?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ravenshrike (808508)
        The difference is that technically we PAY THEIR SALARY. Why shouldn't the bosses know what's going on in the main center of the workplace?
      • by HeroreV (869368)
        Nobody's demanding to monitor everything they do 24 hours a day, just the time that they are in session and doing their jobs that we pay them to do. Many employers already record their employees while they're working and you don't see people getting too upset over that. It's what people do in their own personal time that they want to be able to keep private.
  • Fortunately, the house leadership sees private cameras as a loss of 'dignity and decorum' and will be denying C-SPANS request."
    There is nothing fortunate about this at all. The house leadership merely want to retain contol over what is recorded so the voters dont get to see their representatives asleep/absent/making complete tits of themselves, and it makes it easier to hide any dissention.
    • by aussie_a (778472)
      So are these videos edited, only turned on at very specific times (with C-SPAN having the option to turn them on in more times), fixed while C-SPANS' would have been rotatable?
      • C-SPAN wanted more control over where the camera was pointing, not just where they are currently told to point it.
        • by aussie_a (778472)
          If that's the only benefit they're offering I disagree and believe it is fortunate they didn't get control. Being able to point the camera somewhere new seems a very minor benefit compared with how much control the people would lose.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by BCW2 (168187)
            If they were allowed to point the cameras anywhere else but at the person speaking, voters might notice that the room is mostly empty. If voters knew how little time Congresscritters actually spent "in Congress" they might get upset at the ridiculus salary the goof offs get paid.

            All members of Congress should be paid the average wage of the U. S., they might do something to actually help people then. Remember: If you make less than $145,000, you have NO representation in Washington. They work for their tax
            • by aussie_a (778472)
              Right, but that benefit needs to be gained in a manner where the disadvantages aren't so large. IMO owning the copyright to the videos of your Congress in session is something you don't give away for something like that.
              • by BCW2 (168187)
                Congress makes their own rules which are not nessisarily the same as the ones they make for everyone else to follow. They are not going to allow something that makes them look as lazy and ineffectual as they are.
            • by Politburo (640618)
              Remember: If you make less than $145,000, you have NO representation in Washington.

              Furthermore, if you actually live in Washington, you don't get representation. How's that for irony.
            • Arrgh! They shouldn't get paid that much! I'm going to write my...uh...overpaid Congressman?

              I know! I'll vote for the person who will promise to lower his own wage and keep it! Anyone? Anyone? Dang.

            • Not that they deserve it, but this is necessary to help them resist bribes.
              • by Danse (1026)
                Not that they deserve it, but this is necessary to help them resist bribes.

                No, any congressperson who accepts a bribe should do 20 years minimum in a medium security or better prison. That should help them resist bribes.
              • Given that in many districts, the price of a successful re-election campaign runs into the millions of dollars, we'd have to pay them a hell of a lot to resist the odd hundred-thousand here, and the odd hundred-thousand there (in PAC/soft money contributions, of course).

                I'd rather that for every amendment, or bill, each congresscritter give up a portion of their salary to fund that piece of legislation - the bigger the appropriation or earmark, the bigger the chunk that comes out of their salary. If the co
            • All members of Congress should be paid the average wage of the U. S.

              Not the average, the median. The distribution is skewed too high to the top earners.

              Median household income in the US in 2004 was around 45,000.

              OTOH, the point of paying legislators well is that then the will (supposedly) be less susceptible to bribes. Bribes now, however, aren't about personal lifestyle, they are about getting re-elected. If the positions available paid less, then there would be fewer bribes^D^D^D^D^D^Dcorporate campa

              • by BCW2 (168187)
                The advantage of paying them less is it would make the job less attractive. Then we might get back to what the founding fathers intended; a citizen legislature that goes to Washington, gets the job done and returns home to real jobs.

                My sig states my support of this idea!
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by lysdexia (897)
      It is completely obvious (to me at least) that all recorded media in open sessions of congress should be recorded at taxpayer expense and entered into the congressional record. (How much would you pay per diem to see your congresscritter behaving exactly as s/he behaves? I'd rather pay for an AV record of congress than for a strategic helium reserve ...) The precedent is there with our existing "paper" congressional record. (Of course, it might be a little different if the affected official would like to g
  • yeah, well (Score:4, Insightful)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @08:15AM (#17375296) Homepage
    C-SPAN bid to "liberate" the House and Senate floor footage has re-emerged and been shot down.

    They only want to "liberate" it to the extent that they control ownership. They're not interested in liberation of the footage in the true sense.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      Exactly like how accuweather wants to liberate the NOAA weather information into their bank accounts.
  • Text Video (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @08:23AM (#17375322)
    Everything that happens on the floor ends up in the Congressional Record anyway, which is publicly available within a couple days of it happening. It's text, which means it's searchable, which makes it a ton better than video when it comes to accessing what you need. It also includes all the extraneous material that gets included in the record but is never read on the floor.

    Many committees provide streaming audio of their open proceedings even if they aren't covered by C-SPAN, but transcripts of committee meetings aren't usually made. Unfortunately, the second most "closed" part of Congress is the numerous committee meetings that are closed to the public. (The first most "closed" part is all the back room dealings that result in 11th hour and 59th minute changes to bills in conference, and I don't expect that to change with the Dems in power, either.)

    But the winner in openness (modulo their impartiality) has to be the Supreme Court, who, though they don't televise their proceedings, now make transcripts of arguments available within a couple of hours of the event.

    • Re:Text Video (Score:5, Informative)

      by hazem (472289) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @08:40AM (#17375384) Journal
      The "record" is not worth much, rally. Most of them start their floor addresses with "I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend..."

      This means, barring any objection (which would be rude), that the congressmember can go back after the fact and change the record of what they said and even add new material. You can actually find far more "said" in the record than could physically be spoken during the stated time period of the debate.
      • I also read an article that mentioned that the Congresspeople add "tributes" to the Record. Entire sections honoring usually local hometown heroes with praise and thanks are added, when they didn't really say any of that at all. It sounded like it was quite common to add tributes to the record, which is fine I guess. It would be better if they actually said it. But it makes me really wonder what else they add or remove. It's much more than just correcting pronunciation errors and the like.
    • I heard about this on NPR a couple of weeks ago. The new congress purports to be more open and honest, and c-span is calling them on it. Everybody knew they wouldn't expand coverage. If congress really wanted to open up, they'd put in a bunch of cameras, offer real-time feeds - including votes - to anyone citizen or registered US corporation who wants them, and archive the video footage in a way that could be easily retrieved by any citizen.

      My question is: does the Congressional Record include all the conve
      • I heard about this on NPR a couple of weeks ago. The new congress purports to be more open and honest, and c-span is calling them on it. Everybody knew they wouldn't expand coverage. If congress really wanted to open up, they'd put in a bunch of cameras, offer real-time feeds - including votes - to anyone citizen or registered US corporation who wants them, and archive the video footage in a way that could be easily retrieved by any citizen.

        You're absolutely wrong. C-SPAN is the bad guy here. If you had

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SirWinston (54399)
      > Everything that happens on the floor ends up in the Congressional
      > Record anyway, which is publicly available within a couple days
      > of it happening. It's text, which means it's searchable, which
      > makes it a ton better than video when it comes to accessing what
      > you need.

      Garbage. It loses every nuance of the spoken word and human gestures which betray what a representative or witness really feels about a contentious issue. I vividly recall watching the Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hea
    • I know you want to defend the decision of the Democrats (this is Slashdot, after all), but the record is often edited after the fact before it is given to the public. C-SPAN would have provided full, live coverage for the public to watch during proceedings.
      • by TheGreek (2403)
        C-SPAN would have provided full, live coverage for the public to watch during proceedings.
        C-SPAN and C-SPAN2 already provide full, live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of House and Senate floor action. The only "gotcha" is that the cameras are under the control of Congressional staff instead of C-SPAN.

        Can you cite an instance when the House or Senate were actually conducting business on the floor and it wasn't broadcast live on C-SPAN?
      • I know you want to defend the decision of the Democrats (this is Slashdot, after all)

        Not really. In fact, I'm hoping that the Blue Dog democrats manage to convince the Republicans to vote for one of them for Speaker, and show Pelosi that the election was a referendum against political extremism.

        • Actually, the election was a vote against political moderation. The repubs lost A LOT of votes because the whole govt. spending schtick and the fact that they did NOTHING worthwhile to back up their ideals.
    • This is an American site. There will be articles of interest only to Americans from time to time. Get over it.
      • This is an American site. There will be articles of interest only to Americans from time to time. Get over it.

        No thats not what the parent is talking about. He's "WTF"ing about how America can shout about being a great free democratic country and then not have means of freely distributing the back cataloge of recordings of their democratic process, thus hindering openness and accountability, which are quite important to democracy in most peoples eyes...

        In the UK we can even sit in on parliment and listen in
        • by rhizome (115711)
          "No thats not what the parent is talking about. He's "WTF"ing about how America can shout about being a great free democratic country and then not have means of freely distributing the back cataloge of recordings of their democratic process, thus hindering openness and accountability, which are quite important to democracy in most peoples eyes..."

          You got all of that from "For and on behalf of Non-Americans: WTF?"
  • It never occurred to me to check C-span's content use policies, which are quite bad as you said.

    Thanks for making that information a lot more public.
  • It is interesting to note that the founding fathers met in closed doors. It was forbidden to say what was going on until it was over. That way people weren't 'acting for the camera'.
    • by Thuktun (221615)
      It is interesting to note that the founding fathers met in closed doors. It was forbidden to say what was going on until it was over. That way people weren't 'acting for the camera'.
      Cite?

      I'm not implying anything, I'm curious.
      • that's a well established fact. check any (decent) US history book or biography (Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, etc).
        • by Thuktun (221615)

          that's a well established fact. check any (decent) US history book or biography (Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, etc).

          I'm not referring to the fact that they met closed-door, rather because you claimed, "That way people weren't 'acting for the camera'."

          The Constitution was authored under the auspices of amending the Articles of Confederation. The fact that they were doing something above and beyond their stated mandate seems more than sufficient reason to keep the meetings secret.

          I've seen no suggestion before

    • forbidden to say what was going on until it was over.


      What was "it"? The drafting of the declaration? The constitutional convention? The early Senate and House?

    • by jZnat (793348) *
      Well, they were planning a revolution, so if Britain had found out about it earlier, they might have lost horribly.
    • by Guppy06 (410832)
      "It is interesting to note that the founding fathers met in closed doors."

      As delegates from their state governments, they were not directly responsible to the people to begin with. There would be no reason for the people to have direct access as it was the state legislatures (the ones who still have the right to alter the constitution without any involvement from the federal government) they were held accountable by.

      And once the document was crafted, it was placed before the popularly-elected state legisla
  • by OpenGLFan (56206) on Wednesday December 27, 2006 @10:51AM (#17376374) Homepage
    Of course you're going to have problems with the video from the floor being copyrighted if laws themselves are copyrighted!
    See this article [yale.edu] from LawMeme. A nonprofit website in Texas attempted to include area building codes that had been written by a company called SBCCI [ihs.com]. SBCCI sued, saying that their copyright had been violated by this publication of the laws, as they made $72 per copy sold by them. A judge ruled in their favor, allowing them to restrict the public laws, saying that $72 was "sufficiently free" for citizens' access.

    (This isn't the only instance, but searching for "copyrighted law" returns more chaff than wheat, thanks to arguments over copyright law in general. Bonus points for more citations, as I'm interested in this.)

    • Yes this happens quite often in particular with building codes. I find it rediculous, but what I believe happens is that a company hires engineers to write a book of codes publishes it and then states/counties whatever governing bodies then vote to adopt the codes in the book. Which is good if you ask me, who do you want writing building codes? engineers or politicians? The problem then comes up that yes the codes are copyrighted.

      How do you solve the issue? Laws should be a matter of public record and
      • How do you solve the issue? Laws should be a matter of public record and should be freely accessible. However the people creating the codes need to be compensated. I suppose the Government could have its own engineers write building codes, I'm not sure thats a good idea though.

        It's the same as the company doing it, minus charging the public per copy, and minus profits for that company. Instead, more of the public pays a lesser amount (in the form of taxes).

        Pro-privatization people would say the government i

        • by cdrguru (88047)
          Problem being that once you release the material nobody ever needs to pay again. Therefore, it is produced once, sold for a fraction of the cost because the creator knows they can sell it over and over again and released. Once released the original creator is now holding a non-asset - it is worthless.

          Of course you could try to "license" it so it could be viewed by the public but not reused or redistributed. Sure. That is working really well with music and video today. So someone in a small town that wo
    • I am an architect who deals with building codes every day at work. As $1uck [slashdot.org] points out [slashdot.org], it is far better for engineers (plus architects, fire marshals and other parties specifically interested in public safety/welfare) to write building codes than politicians, who are much more likely to be influenced by big donors and other "special interest" parties specifically interested in lining their own pockets.

      Unfortunately, this means that you have a private third-party developer that is essentially writing your

  • As Mike Rivero [whatreallyhappened.com] observerd:
    Surveillance cameras on every street corner, but no real coverage of the goings-on of our government at work, Madame Speaker?

    What are you afraid Americans might learn about the proceedings that go on there? - M. R.

  • I've actually called my congresspeople and asked about who is in charge of videorecording proceedings because it's not very clear. They had never had such an interesting question and it took several days to get a response (these are people who normally can send a canned response to any question in minutes). I still didn't get a very good answer from them, something about "House and Senate Media Services" but no answer about how it gets out of the building or if truly public domain (no C-SPAN logo) copies ar
  • The real work of Congress isn't done on the Congressional floor. The real work is done in committees, and most of the committee meetings are closed, even the ones that are nominally open.

    If they can't find a way to close them, they'll hold the meeting in their offices in private, come to a conclusion, and then open the meeting for a trivial few minutes to announce the results.

    C-SPAN is for making speeches, not for legislating.
  • C-SPAN asked for permission to rearrange the cameras and broadcast more material in 1994 when Republicans took over the House of Representatives (C-SPAN has been operating on the same initial rules set up in the late 70s when they were first allowed on Capitol Hill). The Republicans denied them just as the Democrats are doing now. C-SPAN uses US government equipment (like cameras) inside of Capitol Hill, and as such the House Speaker retains absolute control over it. It would make for better programming (to
  • I'm not sure how Slashdotters will feel about this opinion, but I'll try not to make an ass of myself and hope for the best.

    I'd rather *not* have "Reality TV for Congress". I don't want to see every last second of their proceedings and discussions, and I don't think they should be subject to constant surveillance. There's two reasons for this: one, I know *I* would perform worse if my boss was video-recording my every move at work, and I wouldn't wish that upon anyone. A person needs the leeway to relax no
    • by HeroreV (869368)

      imagine 300 million people in the same spot, trying to decide on anything

      Why do people keep speaking of true Democracy like this? Is it just a coincidence that they all exaggerate as much as possible to make their point?

      Imagine 300 million people with internet access (even if just through a computer at the local library), voting on whatever it is that interests them (which may be nothing). Imagine something closer to Wikipedia. It might not work well, but it's nothing like the completely retarded idea of fo

      • by chreekat (467943)
        It's not the problem of logistics, it's the impossibility of hundreds of millions of people, all with an opinion and something to say, trying to get anything accomplished at all. There *has* to be authority. I think Wikipedia is a good example for that argument -- the problems involving hot topics would never solve themselves. It wasn't democracy, it was anarchy.
    • I would want them to be subjected to constant surveillence. This is as Mark Twain and Will Rogers said, the most corrupt group of people in the country outside of a Federal penitentiary (and even that's close).

      Futhermore, they should be required to do their own taxes AND be audited every year. These people are largely millionaires who have made a career out of selling us out to places like China or organizations like Big Oil. Given that much power and responsibility, I would demand that everything they d
  • A recent blog post on metavid explains the issue [ucsc.edu] in more detail. For example we already can't use the footage of Alito's Confirmation until 2101 assuming copyright is not extended again.

    And the wikipedia article on C-SPAN IP enforcement [wikipedia.org] which documents some of C-SPAN's take down requests to people that have used legislative footage online.
  • Sure they get to film it, but it has to be constantly open to the public. On the one hand, C-Spans restrictions suck ass, on the other, the feed would actually show you everything going on, rather than concentrating only on the person speaking. For that matter, do both, and force C-Span to pay for the privilege, thereby funding the current program.
  • To be clear, it was Nancy Pelosi who rejected this. Not an evil Republican. Not Don Rumsfeld. Not Bush.

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