On her eponymous MSNBC show today, Andrea Mitchell delivered a stern message to the Obama campaign, which had used a little Mitchell material in a recent campaign promotion. Here’s what she said:
Some viewers might be understandably confused by the fact that the Obama campaign is airing a commercial right now including a video clip of me fact-checking Gov. Romney after last week’s debate. You should know that NBC News has not granted either campaign permission to use our news material and immediately requested that the campaign refrain from using NBC News material in this and future advertisements. In this case, the Obama commercial uses only a short clip from a Truth Squad report that in fact pointed out exaggerations and or misstatements that both candidates had made during the debate.
Bold text highlighted to emphasize a point we’ll be making shortly.
In the meantime, here’s the video that Mitchell is referencing:
The way my watch measures things, the Obama campaign excerpts precisely seven seconds of Mitchell’s “Truth Squad” report to push its own agenda. At this point, this blog generally calls in an expert or two to judge whether the campaign’s work amounts to fair use under U.S. copyright law. In the extant case, however, we’ll be skipping that step, confident that this seven-second clip is as likely to violate copyright law as the Trading with the Enemy Act.
As Politico’s Dylan Byers reported on Saturday, NBC News sent a letter to the Obama campaign asking it “to cease using network footage” in the video. One hundred percent posturing.
Now back to that bolded text. In asserting that NBC News hadn’t granted some sort of permission to the campaigns, the network manages to mislead its viewers. Such a contention, after all, suggests that the networks have plenipotentiary leverage over the use of all their material. They do not. Provided that political campaigns and other entities comply with the quadri-pronged fair use eligibility test, they may simply go right ahead and use relevant clips.
The notion that the networks can somehow ban responsible and legal reuse of their work is threatening to become an epidemic. In this election cycle alone, both Tom Brokaw and Bob Schieffer have squawked about the perfectly legal deployment of their work for partisan ends. It’s fine that the networks want their viewers to know they’re not cool with their material being used toward partisan purposes, but they should make plain to viewers that the law gives them little control over fair-use excerpts.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt tells me that the campaign has “received the letter and are reviewing their concerns.” Should be a quick review.