A Vast Wonderland

I’ve written about the Internet Archive a few times on this blog; it’s the best thing I’ve discovered in my recent exploration of digital historical resources. I’ve mostly used its Wayback Machine to look at some of the billions of pages of the internet it has saved, but it also preserves books, films, music and a lot more.

Included in “more” is the Television News Archive. This archive allows users to search closed captioning of news broadcasts, streaming the results in 30 second clips. Originally created in September 2012 to track television news coverage of the Presidential Election from two local stations (one in San Francisco, one in D.C.), the project has continued past its original scope. Recent topics include Jason Collins, Victor Yanukovych, and Whatsapp, and the original networks have now expanded to include Comedy Central, BBC America and Univision (though only news programs of those networks are covered.) The TNA has archived over 542,000 news broadcasts.

Like many efforts of the Internet Archive, the TNA theoretically is in a gray area of copyright law. Like the webpages the Wayback Machine preserves, the broadcasts in the TNA are not copyrighted by the Internet Archive. However, it is clear that the TNA’s use of these copyrighted broadcasts is fair use.

First, let’s assess the TNA according to the four factors of fair use:

  1. Purpose of Use: TNA’s original purpose was “to help engaged citizens better understand the issues and candidates in the 2012 U.S. elections.” Though that purpose has expanded past elections, the central tenet of furthering American civic engagement and education still exists.
  2. Nature of Copyrighted Work: The original material, though copyrighted itself, is heavily reliant on Fair Use since the images used are not owned by the broadcast. (For example, in the Jason Collins mentions linked above, the clip of Collins entering the game is not copyrighted by the local news stations.) The original material is (mostly) educational.
  3. Extent of use: With only 30 second clips of the news segments available, the archive only shows a very limited extent of the copyrighted material.
  4. Financial implications: There is no direct economic benefit for the Television News Archive (or IA in general) since it is a free service. Meanwhile, past news broadcasts are not “sold” to the public like say old episodes of sitcoms are.

However, the courts currently place less emphasis on the four factors than on the “transformativeness” of the Fair Use claim. On this account, the TNA passes as well. By allowing the public to compare broadcasts from around the country side-by-side, the TNA adds an extra layer of meaning to these copyrighted informational programs.  If you don’t believe me, then listed to former FCC Chairman Newton Minow — who called television a vast wasteland in 1961. On the archive’s statements of support page, he says “The Internet Archive’s TV news research service builds upon broadcasters’ public interest obligations. This new service offers citizens exceptional opportunities to assess political campaigns and issues, and to hold powerful public institutions accountable.” As my emphasis shows, Minow’s support directly explains the transformativeness of the TNA.

Just another reason the Internet Archive is so critical.


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About Zach Klitzman

A History Grad student at American University

2 responses to “A Vast Wonderland”

  1. drdankerr says :

    Nice argument — of course the transformative argument is the key one. Intriguingly, Aufderheide and Jaszi worked with them as they built their own fair use case for the archive. They sided with you on this one.

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