Eoin (with help from others) has been trying to persuade RTÉ to make the footage of the election debates (Ahern-Kenny plus the four-way ‘small parties’ debate) available without restrictions. This would mean that people would be free to use clips from the debate on their own website (whether to promote or oppose someone!), to incorporate elements in their own videos or AV productions, and indeed to use extracts in parody or criticism. RTÉ refused Eoin’s initial request (while pointing out that they would make the debates available for viewing – but not re-use) earlier today. Antoin says that they’re wrong. We can blame Lessig for this whole idea, although he’s been more successful than we have!

This is something that US broadcasters have committed to, and is in tune with a reasonable, balanced approach to copyright that recognises that RTÉ has no need to spend its time and money chasing people who are interested in politics and the processes of Irish democracy.

Here’s the obligatory petition. Go sign.

I call on RTÉ to take a decision in favour of public debate and waive its copyright on these debates. RTÉ would suffer no economic loss from such a decision (as in all reality, no-one is going to buy rights to use debate footage!) but would show that public broadcasting is different to fully commercial market-driven media, being related to promotion of citizen engagement and the furthering of democratic values.

There seems to be an attitude that the ‘product’, a debate on politics, needs to be protected and treated like the latest instalment of You’re A (Very Minor And In The Outer Galaxy Sort Of A) Star or whatever else passes for public broadcasting these days. I’m not quite sure I agree. Political speech is different – different in law, different in the market, different in the mind of the average citizen.

Ultimately, people are going to do their own thing. However, if RTÉ took this seriously, and called off the lawyers – I have suggested using a CC or similar license, and many seem to agree – they would be encouraging all – politicians, professionals, amateurs, activists, the lot – and not just the smaller group who are prepared (for practical, ideological or other reasons) to publish first and ask questions later.

Of course, if we had proper laws on fair use rather than fair dealing, we wouldn’t be (as badly) in this mess. In that regard, it’s interesting to see Michael Geist’s column (here and here) on copyright protection for House of Commons and Senate debates in Canada (where copyright is asserted by the houses and fair dealing rather than use is in place).