A little more than six months ago, a vast right-and-left-wing conspiracy launched a campaign to make the footage of the Republican and Democratic presidential debates free. Not free of advertising, that is, but free in the sense that anyone could take the footage and use it as they wished—to criticize, to mock, to celebrate. Most of the networks, surprisingly, agreed, although many people didn’t get the point of asking for “free debates” in the first place. “Oh come on. Do you really think a network is going to threaten a presidential candidate over a copyright claim?”, a friend wrote to intellectual property guru and internet Thomas Jefferson Lawrence Lessig.
Turns out, of course, that a network really is threatening a presidential candidate over a copyright claim. The candidate is John McCain, who used a clip from a debate in one of his ads, and the network, of course, if Fox. As TPM reported, MoveOn.org Civic Action and a coalition of right-wing bloggers (including the inimitable Michelle Malkin) are taking on Fox for their uniquely silly and counterproductive position. Lessig elaborates:
It is time that the presidential candidates from both parties stand with Senator McCain and defend his right to use this clip to advance his presidential campaign. Not because it is “fair use” (whether or not it is), but because presidential debates are precisely the sort of things that ought to be free of the insanely complex regulation of speech we call copyright law.
Indeed, as the target of the attack, and as one who has been totally AWOL on this issue from the start, it would be most appropriate if this demand were to begin with Senator Clinton. Let her defend her colleague’s right to criticize her, by demanding that her party at least condition any presidential debate upon the freedom of candidates and citizens to speak.
Indeed. And if you don’t think this is a key moment for “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” you should really watch that McCain ad again.