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ABC, NBC Make Debate Footage Available

ABC and NBC joined CNN in making their presidential-debate footage available for relatively unrestricted use on the Web and elsewhere.

According to ABC debate ground rules posted by the network's political reporter, Rick Klein, for its forums Aug. 5 and 19, the footage could be used "without restrictions" after 3 p.m. on each Sunday -- the forums are expanded versions of the network’s This Week morning program. At ABC, the decision was made several weeks ago.

Meanwhile, over at MSNBC, the cable network loosened its rules for reuse of its "presidential-candidate forum" footage, saying that footage of Tuesday night's AFL-CIO event would be available for "unlimited excerpts … in all media where the primary purpose is to report on, comment on, or analyze the forum." It still said the footage could not be used for commercial purposes.

That "unlimited" use is a change from its rules for a May 3 GOP forum, in which it limited excerpts to no more than 10 minutes. The MSNBC rules continue to have more "legalese" than others -- not unusual for a company owned by NBC Universal, a leading voice for the protection of easily pirated digital content and for the strengthening of copyright laws. But in essence, the message is that news organizations, online or on-air, can use the material.

CNN said back in May that it would put make its debate footage available for unrestricted use. At the time, MSNBC said its footage would still be restricted. It still is, to some degree, including requirements for on-screen credit and no commercial reuse. But it is less restricted than it was.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama has been an outspoken proponent of making debate footage available for reuse on the Web, asking media companies to waive their copyright and saying, "There is no reason that this particular class of content needs the protection."

C-SPAN and NPR have also loosened their hold on repurposing their content.

CBS and Fox spokespeople had not returned calls for comment about their policies on use of debate footage.

Praising the moves was, which had pushed for the unrestricted reuse policy.

“ABC and NBC deserve praise for leveling the playing field -- allowing everyday people to share key debate moments on blogs and YouTube just like the networks choose moments to show on the air,”'s Adam Green said in a statement. “It's good for our democracy that TV networks are removing themselves as the sole deciders of which debate moments can have a life online.”

Also celebrating was fair use backer, The Digital Freedom Campaign (consumer electronics manufacturers, Public Knowedge among them): "Allowing video of the upcoming debates to be viewed and excerpted online invites more Americans to participate in the political process and gives them the digital freedom to exercise their fundamental rights," said the group.