Guest Post By Andrew Dhuey
Like most Americans, I watched the House Judiciary Committee hearing on H.R. 3309, the Innovation Act, this past Tuesday. While Members of Congress and witnesses lamented abusive assertions of patent rights, an ominous warning lurked below their talking heads:
Yes, that's right – I am not allowed to use this Congressional hearing video for a political purpose. I am apparently free to use this for entertainment or religious purposes, but I would have to turn away lucrative commercial sponsorships. Fox News and MSNBC should think twice before using this video – only bona fide news programs allowed.
But seriously, Judiciary, this is embarrassing. On what basis could you possibly restrict the use of this video? Why would you even want to do that?
Let's start with copyright law (psst…that's within your jurisdiction, Judiciary!). The video is a production of the Library of Congress. That means no copyright. 17 U.S.C. § 105 ("Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government"). Even if the video were copyrighted, imagine the First Amendment implications of restricting the political use of a public, political hearing video.
Perhaps Judiciary has in mind a contractual theory for this restriction. By watching the video, I am agreeing to this use restriction. That would be quite a stretch, though. If you sue me on that theory, Judiciary, I'm going to call you a "Video Troll" and lobby you to pass legislation that prevents abusive use restrictions on legislative hearing videos.
Maybe the most plausible explanation for this use restriction is that it is there by mistake. Please correct that mistake, Judiciary. It looks bad for the people who make intellectual property laws to impose a legally unenforceable use restriction on a public hearing video.
Andrew Dhuey is an appellate lawyer in Berkeley, California.