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Obama, McCain Back Public Re-use Of Debate Footage

Both Barack Obama and John McCain are urging the TV networks and Presidential Debate Commission to allow debate footage to be distributed and used freely on the Internet--thought the McCain campaign left some wiggle room--and to allow the public more input on debate questions.

That is according to copies of letters from Barack Obama and McCain campaign General Counsel Trevor Potter distributed Tuesday by the Open Debate Coalition, which had pushed for both.

The coalition, comprising groups from both sides of the political spectrum, had asked the presidential candidates in letters last week to pledge to hold more Internet-friendly debates, including requiring media companies to release rights to video footage. That includes ground rules that media companies make debate video freely available for sharing, blogging and posting.

"I urge both the Commission on Presidential Debates and the television networks to take action to free the content the Presidential debates produce and to engage voters more directly in the questions asked during debates," said Obama in the letter. He then put in a plug for network neutrality, pointing out that "during the MTV forum in which I participated last year, the Internet community voted to ask a question regarding my position on network neutrality, which I support."

The McCain campaign took the opportunity to point out that he was all for including the public in the debate process, but the Barack Obama had rejected his offer for a series of town meetings.

"We believe that Americans--including the campaigns themselves--should be able to "debate the debates" using all available tools on the Internet and elsewhere, including blogs, web-video services," said Potter. He also said the campaign suports the suggestion that "those who may own rights in the debate video dedicate those rights to the public domain." And if they weren't willing to go that far, they should "at the very least give the utmost respect to principles of fair use by allowing noncommercial use of debate excerpts."

CBS told B&C last week it also supports making raw debate footage available for repurposing online and elsewhere, and said Tuesday that includes making the pool feed part of the public domain. ABC said Tuesday that it was "open to discussing this with other members of the pool."

Coalition members include craigslist founder Craig Newmark, David Kralik of Newt Gingrich's American Solutions, Eli Pariser of, Republican strategist Mandy Finn, Arianna Huffington and Josh Silver of Free Press.

While praising the campaigns' responses, the coalition still had questions, particularly given that the second presidential debate is tonight (Oct. 7):

"1) Will the media pool choose to put their video of the debates in the public domain, so folks can freely blog key moments and share them without fear of being deemed a lawbreaker?

2) Will Tom Brokaw use some bottom-up debate questions collected and voted on on Google's site, in addition or in place of the top-down ones the Commission collected?

3) Will the Commission adopt these principles for future debates, now that the candidates from both major parties embrace them?"

A representative for Brokaw was unavailable for comment at press time.

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