Political Expression and Copyright
Glenn Otis Brown, September 15th, 2004
Today Robert Greenwald announced the release of footage from his controversial film Outfoxed under the Creative Commons Sampling Plus license. The release of his earlier film, Uncovered, will follow soon.
In making Outfoxed and Uncovered, I learned how cumbersome and expensive it can be to license footage from news organizations. Creative Commons licenses allow me as a filmmaker to know immediately how I can use a piece of content in my films. I could think of no better way to walk the talk myself than by releasing the interviews from Outfoxed and Uncovered under a license that allows other filmmakers to use my material in new and creative ways. I look forward to seeing what others do with these interviews.
As you know (or at least I hope you do), Creative Commons is a nonpartisan organization. What excites us about this announcement is not Greenwald’s content or viewpoint, but rather the fact that a prominent political speaker has realized that “all rights reserved” copyright might not serve his goals. Like pretty much all expression, political speech is automatically copyrighted when fixed in a medium. And yet political speech’s reason-for-being is to be heard far and wide. Whether in the form of campaign pamphlet, polemical movie, or protest song, core expression is perfectly suited to online distribution. It’s also perfect for interaction: You’ve got to be able to use an adversary’s speech to rebut it. In the digital age, that often means copying and re-framing a piece of media. Fair use provides some cover for this kind of thing, but political debate should be settled on its merits, not by copyright litigation prodecure.
We’d be thrilled, especially in the middle of this campaign season, if people across the political spectrum — conservative or liberal, pro- or anti-Fox — followed Greenwald’s lead, or took him up on his offer to interact with and even try to rebut his film.