Obama looks to Net for debates

Move would encourage democratic participation

The Internet’s potential for unprecedented influence upon a presidential election increased as a major Democratic contender for the 2008 nomination joined the call for televised debates to be made freely available for Web replay.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) sent a letter Thursday to Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, whose 2004 presidential campaign relied heavily on the Internet, asking that video of Dem debates be offered afterward without restriction “by either placing the video in the public domain or licensing it under a Creative Commons license.”

“As you know, the Internet has enabled an extraordinary range of citizens to participate in the political dialogue around this election,” Obama’s letter continued. “Much of that participation will take the form of citizen-generated content. We, as a party, should do everything that we can to encourage this participation.

Obama was careful to point out that he was not trying to initiate any “radical change in copyright law or an unjustified expansion in fair use.” Rather, he requested that “any purported copyright owner of video from the debates waive that copyright.

“I am a strong believer in the importance of copyright, especially in a digital age. But there is no reason that this particular class of content needs the protection.”

Obama’s letter effectively endorses a nearly identical one that a bipartisan coalition of bloggers, Internet activists and academics sent to both the Republican and Democratic national committees last week.

In their letter, a coalition ranging from the hard lefty group MoveOn.org to a former official of the RNC said: “In the age of online video sharing, corporations retaining exclusive rights to debate footage is an obvious barrier to democratic participation. No concerned voter should ever be labeled a lawbreaker for wanting to share video of a presidential debate with others.”

In addition to sites like YouTube, political blogs of all stripes will likely wish to replay at least portions of the debates on their respective sites.

“We are already exploring ways to make the DNC-sanctioned debates more accessible and will continue to work on this and other issues in our discussions with the networks,” said DNC press secretary Stacie Paxton,.

However, the Republican National Committee “will not be getting involved” with the requests, said spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.

While the political parties, like professional sports teams, may have a say in permissions for reuse of content, ownership of the broadcast footage would belong to the relevant television network. MSNBC, which carried Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate, has already begun to allow limited Internet replay of its footage, but not to the degree Obama and the others are seeking.

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