Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Electioneering Accountability

There's an article about the Ohio Elections Commission in the Dispatch today, highlighting their total lack of power to do anything about the complaints they receive. It's a companion piece to the story of the six years it took to find the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and it's advocacy arm Citizens for a Strong Ohio guilty of violating election law, resulting in a $1,100 fine. While I'm not really surprised that campaigns can often get away with lying, I am surprised that they can steal with impunity.

What I mean by this is that the Ohio Channel owns the copyright to the footage it provides of government activities. It maintains this copyright so that the footage isn't used in campaign ads. Supposedly.

See, as I summed up here, the Republican party distributed a web ad featuring a context-free statement by Barbara Sykes that made it appear that she was supporting a tax-hike. Forget the fact that the ad was intentionally misleading, it was a copyright violation, and the Ohio Channel told them to stop distributing it.

The ad was removed from YouTube, then mass-mailed, then the GOP said that they had capitulated and pulled the ad. By the time the article appeared in the Dispatch with the quotes confirming that Republicans had agreed to stop stealing copyrighted footage, they had already gone back on this statement, and put the ad up on their website.

Shortly thereafter, Progress Ohio made a video combining the song "The Way we Were" with footage of Tom Noe personally praising almost every Republican on the 2006 ballot during a swearing-in ceremony.

The Ohio Channel cried foul and asserted their ownership of the footage, causing Progress Ohio to pull the clip.

I made a web ad featuring a speech by David Goodman, in which he argued that candidates should be able to take unlimited contributions, because politicians aren't really influenced by campaign money.

It lasted a few hours on YouTube before the OhioChannel informed YouTube that they owned the copyright to the video footage and wanted the clip pulled, which YouTube did.

As The Ohio Channel was busy shutting down any and all liberal web clips using their footage, the Republican Party continued to host the anti-Sykes ad that had brought the copyright issue into the news in the first place. The GOP maintained that they had the right to do so, and refused to recognize the copyright protections claimed by the Ohio Channel.

The Ohio Channel hinted that they might pursue legal action. That was the last mention of the issue in the Dispatch. If legal action has been pursued, it hasn't made the papers.

And the Ohio Republican Party continues to have the ad hosted on their website ('Tax Hike Sykes...'). So it would at least appear that either the GOP was right, and the footage is in the public domain (in at least some situations), or they are wrong, but the Ohio Channel isn't actually interested in protecting their copyright.

What good are election laws if nobody actually follows them? Why would anyone follow them if their opponents don't do so, and they aren't enforced? Copyright law is of course far broader than the realm of political ads, but in this context, are election-related copyright laws being selectively enforced, or does our side just comply with requests to respect property rights? The most recent Dispatch article mentions a ruling against a Democratic candidate, but also mentions that the offending language was voluntarily removed from the ad during its run before the election. I'm starting to feel like conservatives believe that campaign laws are for suckers. Worse yet, I'm starting to fear that they've got a point.

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