C-SPAN Wins Judgment Against Candidate

A federal judge in St. Louis last week barred a political candidate from unauthorized use of C-SPAN video in campaign ads and on a campaign Web site.

C-SPAN called the ruling an important legal precedent that supports its policy of not allowing political candidates to use its intellectual property in a partisan campaign.

The candidate, though, claimed the ad's lifting of C-SPAN footage fell under fair-use provisions of copyright law, and his campaign apparently plans to appeal.

As of last Thursday, C-SPAN had been notified that William J. Federer, a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives in Missouri, had asked the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling and that information on the matter was being forwarded to a panel of 8th Circuit judges.

Federer is trying to unseat 24-year incumbent Rep. Richard Gephardt (D.-Mo.), the House minority leader. He also ran against Gephardt in 1998.

C-SPAN filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on Oct. 26 over a 30-second spot that aired on three St. Louis-area television stations.

According to U.S. District Judge Charles A. Shaw's written ruling issued last Monday, the ad featured C-SPAN video of Gephardt speaking at an October 1999 dinner sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. It also used the C-SPAN logo, graphics and part of a C-SPAN voice-over identifying the event.

During the ad, the screen split and graphics that were not part of the original C-SPAN video were imposed by the campaign. At the end, the campaign superimposed its own text over the C-SPAN logo.

Judge Shaw ruled the ad infringed C-SPAN's copyright and inflicted irreparable harm on the public-affairs network. He issued a written order blocking use of the video.

Bruce Collins, C-SPAN's general counsel, said the network had asked Federer's campaign to pull the ad and to promise to stop using the video. "They did respond, but not satisfactorily," so C-SPAN went to court, for the first time in its 20-year history in such a situation.

Collins said most copyright infringements come down to potential loss of income by the copyright holders. This time, the harm to C-SPAN was to its reputation for non-partisan reporting-the basis on which it has value to viewers and to the cable companies that subsidize the service.

As Shaw wrote in the order, "Any implication that C-SPAN is biased toward one political party or philosophy would undermine its unique and valuable reputation, niche and indeed increasingly crucial role in our democratic system."

Federer's campaign Web site claimed Gephardt pressured C-SPAN to remove the ad. Collins said that wasn't true. C-SPAN heard about the ad, which ran the week of Oct. 23, and took action on its own, he said.

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Nexttv.com. Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.