The Presidential Debates Have Been Liberated

Earlier this week, the mainstream media (MSM) took a small but significant step toward recognizing the open culture of the Internet. CNN announced that all of its presidential debate coverage will be made available without legal restrictions at the conclusion of each live debate. This is a major victory for a group of 75 leading civic and online organizations led by Professor Larry Lessig. The group included leading technologists, the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, national women’s/civil rights/veterans/labor organizations, progressives Civic Action and, conservatives and Michelle Malkin, and a former FEC Chair.

In late April, the group formally requested that the Republican and Democratic National Committees take steps to ensure that debate footage be explicitly be put in the public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license. This would allow online commoners to legally share and re-use the debate videos without fear of legal repercussions.

On May 5, CNN said in a press release that it “believes strongly that the debates should be accessible to the public. The candidates need to be held accountable for what they say throughout the election process. The presidential debates are an integral part of our system of government, in which the American people have the opportunity to make informed choices about who will serve them.”

CNN also realizes, I’m sure, that its release of CNN-branded video to the online world is a significant marketing coup as well. Besides showcasing CNN’s public-spiritedness, citizen re-use of the debate video will propagate CNN logos everywhere, with greater speed and efficiency than CNN could ever manage by itself. Which is great. Getting the presidential debates into everyone’s hands should be non-controversial and non-partisan.

So the MSM has stuck its toe into the water. It should be interesting to see what future attempts to leverage user-driven media and open networks will materialize in coming months.