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Want to get more young people to vote? Why not upload the Presidential debates YouTube and make it safe to share the video?
That's the request signed on Wednesday by a bi-partisan alliance of 75 people including Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
The alliance, which is comprised of political groups, technology companies, and individuals, sent the letters to the Republican and Democratic national committees seeking open access to video footage of presidential debate videos. Stanford Law Professor and founder of the Center for Internet and Society, Lawrence Lessig posted the request on his blog (PDF).
The letters request that the video footage be placed in the public domain, or under a Creative Commons license, to protect bloggers and other Internet users from being prosecuted for accessing or re-using the material. Critics suggest that such an open license would cut television networks out of deals for exclusive rights to the footage.
"Technology has exploded the opportunity for people to comment upon and spread political speech," Lessig said in a prepared statement. "I am very hopeful that both the Republicans and the Democrats will help encourage the extraordinary public discussion around the election that the Internet has enabled, by removing any uncertainty about the right of the people to comment upon the speech of presidential candidates."
Mike Krempasky, co-founder of RedState.com, urged the RNC to "do anything and everything to encourage their supporters to get involved." Adam Green of MoveOn Civic Action said people should be able to get candidates' positions free through YouTube and "share them with others without fear of breaking the law."
Michael Turk, former eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee, said that since the President's job is the most important one, "parties should conduct discussions and debates between candidates in a transparent way."
"Allowing unfettered access to the footage of the debates is a step in that direction," he added.
The appeal for open access to the debates follows other Internet-based changes to the political process. Presidential candidates communicated with voters on the Web directly for the first time in 1996 and were granted permission to accept online contributions for the first time in 2000.
"In 2008, we need to ensure that the promise of online video is not inhibited," the letter explained. "In the past, television stations that broadcast presidential debates have retained exclusive rights to debate footage after the event was over. By and large, such contract terms were not noticed by voters, activists, or news junkies."
Despite the Presidential debates being broadcast on national television, the letter explains that there was no forum for people to share video content then.
"But in the age of online video sharing, corporations retaining exclusive rights to debate footage is an obvious barrier to democratic participation," the letter stated. "No concerned voter should ever be labeled a lawbreaker for wanting to share video of a presidential debate with others."
Proponents of the plan said they want anyone to be able to access, edit, and share with others with proper attribution. They pointed to C-SPAN's decision earlier this year to allow expanded use of their video content.
Other notable supporters of the video licensing rights request include members of both political parties and former U.S. Election Commission Chair Brad Smith; Columbia Law School Professor and founder of the university's program on law and technology, Timothy Wu; Cory Doctorow, of the Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California; veterans' groups, privacy organizations, bloggers, labor groups, and members of the media.
Representatives for the networks could not be reached immediately for comment Wednesday.