October 20, 2006  ·  Lessig

In Free Culture, chapter 9, I wrote the following:

In addition to the Internet Archive, Kahle has been constructing theTelevision Archive. Television, it turns out, is even more ephemeral than the Internet. While much of twentieth- century culture was constructed through television, only a tiny proportion of that culture is available for anyone to see today. Three hours of news are recorded each evening by Vanderbilt University – thanks to a specific exemption in the copyright law. That content is indexed, and is available to scholars for a very low fee. “But other than that, [television] is almost unavailable,” Kahle told me. “If you were Barbara Walters you could get access to [the archives], but if you are just a graduate student?”

As Kahle put it,”Do you remember when Dan Quayle was interacting with Murphy Brown? Remember that back and forth surreal experience of a politician interacting with a fictional television character? If you were a graduate student wanting to study that, and you wanted to get those original back and forth exchanges between the two, the 60 Minutes episode that came out after it … it would be almost impossible. … Those materials are almost unfindable. …”

Jeff Ubois has just published a paper about his effort to find out whether Brewster was right. His conclusion: Brewster’s right. As he writes:

I searched for footage of the Quayle/Brown interaction with an eye towards making some general assessments of the accessibility of historic broadcasts, and detailed the results in a paper called Finding Murphy Brown: How Accessible are Historic Television Broadcasts? It’s finally out this week in the peer reviewed Journal of Digital Information….

Copyright restrictions ultimately made it impossible to get the original Dan Quayle speech, or the Murphy Brown episodes in question. In an odd coda to this project, one digital library journal (from which I withdrew this paper) insisted that the correspondence detailing refusals by various organizations to allow access to or use of the Quayle/Brown footage was itself copyrighted, and therefore unsuitable for publication. Those excerpts are included in the current piece. It was disturbing how one effect of copyright law is to chill academic discussions of copyright law.

You can read the paper by linking from the blog entry.

(Thanks, Jeff!)

  • http://www.colorado.edu/law/jthtl/ Micah Schwalb

    It would be nice if such materials were available for free online, but diligent researchers can always make their way to the Museum of Television and Radio.

  • http://blogprocessing.net/ revan

    Micah you arent right – it is illegal to get it free of charge

  • http://www.worldmaker.net Max Battcher

    There is a Museum of Television in New York that seems to be building a large library, and I think the Library of Congress still has a reasonable sized collection of television-related materials.

    Obviously those points of access aren’t available to every researcher, but it is nice to know that there are a many groups interested in tracking the stuff down.