October 7, 2008  ·  Lessig


Barack Obama has reaffirmed the position he took in the primaries and asked the Debate Commission to support “open debates.” Here’s the letter.

Three key open questions:

1) Will the media pool choose to put their video of the debates in the public domain, so folks can freely blog key moments and share them without fear of being deemed a lawbreaker?

2) Will Tom Brokaw use some bottom-up debate questions collected and voted on on Google’s site, in addition or in place of the top-down ones the Commission collected?

3) Will the Commission adopt these principles for future debates, now that the candidates from both major parties embrace them?

And one final point: Now that both Senators have affirmed the “open debate” principles, its time for citizens to do the same. Please sign up below to support the call for “open debates.” Once again, the original letter to McCain and Obama is here.

Join The Open Debate Movement – Sign Up Here

  • http://www.drunkdrivingduilawblog.com/ Nicky

    On your first main question, do you think the video of the debates will be published in the public domain. I would assume they would.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    I really don’t like the conflation of the debate copyright issue – which is a small but legitimate civic point – with advertising attention-seeking marketing and promotion of data-mining businesses (which are in my view VERY uncivic). It’s an example of the being “used” which I warn against.

    I’m hesitant if it’s worth making enemies and perhaps taking another hit in terms of personal attack. But it bothers me enough to say this comment (though maybe it’s a mistake :-( ).

  • http://www.ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    The debates are already “open” in the sense people around the world can watch the debates – live – on CSPAN and other internet websites. I also wonder if Barack Obama is aware of the Twitter-Current TV co-promotion of the “Hack this Debate” phenomenon over the last two debates.

    The bigger question to me is whether he and John McCain would support the third-party candidates (Bob Barr, Chuck Baldwin, Cynthia McKinney, and Ralph Nader) to join them at their final debate. This would truly provide for an open debate.

  • http://notimpressed.wordpress.com Em

    So, any word on what the Debate Commission says? It’s probably too late for this year, since the media credentials will already have been granted, but it would be awesome for there to be at least one public domain broadcast or internet feed for use by the people – who theoretically should own this anyway – as a condition of them allowing the networks – who again are using public airways – to broadcast.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    It’s too bad Obama while supporting “open debates,” has declined dozens of debates with McCain and Clinton.

    Not that it’s a bad political move, since debates are always risky to the leader. Obama was of course more open to debates when he was not the leading candidate and needed the free publicity.

  • T0AD

    how do you have an open debate with only two political parties invited?

    A real open debate would include at least six party candidates. Ralph Nader, Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney, and Chuck Baldwin should be there. They may not have the level of support of the Republocrats but they represent many Americans. They talk about real issues too like the idea of peace instead of war.

  • http://csun.freeculture.org Jonico

    We could remix the third parties into the debate. I can see it now, each one of the third party candidates adding their answer to the moderators questions. The best thing is that if a remix got big enough that it would force the big two candidates to be on the defensive of what the third parties said. Then, perhaps the the general population would understand how mainstream media frames issues to make them appear that they are only ones that matter to them.

  • http://snowfallen.newsvine.com Snowflake Seven

    While access to video of the debates is important, and citizen-submitted questions even more so, I am concerned that the notion of the debates, much less the call for open ones, does not include all presidential candidates.

    Often the debates are framed with the narrative that they will allow the candidates the opportunity to highlight their differences for public examination. That is rarely the result. If, however, the dissenting voices in our country, who run for president with dramatically different views, were allowed into the debates and given the respect candidates are deserving of then we would be better served.

    The tireless fight of concerned and courageous citizens with respectful and rational platforms outside that of the two corporately sponsored parties must be treated equally under our system of government. Our presidential election process is as dependent on monied influence as our Congress. We have allowed the wealthy class to anoint candidates they deem corporately righteous. This has to change.

    Recall how Sen. Obama, Sen. McCain, Sen. Biden and Gov. Palin all dodged the question about which of there administration’s campaign promises would now be axed because of appropriations to fund the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. Now imagine if Citizen Nader, Citizen Barr, Citizen McKinney and Citizen Baldwin were there to present their positions and in doing so demonstrate the huge gaps between the corporate candidates policies and promises.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    I hate to tell you Snowflake, but there is a very good change that the government (taxpayers) will make a profit on the “bailout.” Compared to other investors, the government can borrow at a lower cost and the government has some control over the economy, which affects the number of defaults.

    Of course the challengers want to present the incumbent in a bad light; it’s $700 billion down the drain to billionaires. Since some of the candidates have promised “everything to everyone,” even if the bailout does not drain a dollar from government’s cash flow, do you think a winning candidate is going to say “I can’t deliver on my promises because I promised 4 times what anyone could deliver (I lied) ” or “I can’t deliver on my promises because of the previous administration.”

  • Bedford Alls

    I can’t believe for a moment the Americans will elect a President who hates them and wants their entire population dead and has a lifetime of affiliations to back him up. Are Americans in a suicidal trance? Did he hypnotize them? they’d better snap out of it and wake up, or someone will have to come into America and rescue them. And there will be nothing good about that.

  • Bedford Alls

    I can’t believe for a moment the Americans will elect a President who hates them and wants their entire population dead and has a lifetime of affiliations to back him up. Are Americans in a suicidal trance? Did he hypnotize them? They’d better snap out of it and wake up, or someone will have to come into America and rescue them. And there will be nothing good about that.

  • http://www.shamptonian.org/ Scot Hampton

    I produced the three (and after tonight, four) debate promo mashups airing on current tv (watch them online here: http://current.com/debate) and have been keenly following these developments. I wanted to thank you LL for tackling this issue, since I too feel like the entire debates should be Public Domain.

    For the first mashup I cut, I chose debate footage from Kennedy/Nixon in 1960, which I found on the Prelinger Archives and, according to Prelinger, the footage was Public Domain. However, I learned shortly thereafter this wasn’t the case. I had to track down the footage through ABC and it was a nightmare. It took forever at first, and then ABC only give us two minutes (and a crappy two minutes at best), but I made the best of it (http://current.com/items/89320597_hack_the_debate_promo_2). If I had wanted more, we would have had to pay for it. Over the last few weeks, we’ve had to pay, er, license, any footage we wanted for an exorbitant amount for what I feel should be Public Domain.

  • http://www.unfuse.com/decisions/79-Presidential-Debate-2-Obama-Vs-McCain/finalize electioneagle

    The most important aspect of this debate is the absence of the other candidates. Are McCain and Obama really the only ones running…?

    It used to be that the major contenders would invite Third Party candidates to participate, but neither McCain nor Obama have extended such invitations — even after being gently reminded that it would be good form to do so.

    Does it not seem immoral that a candidate who has gained ballot access in a sufficient number of states to theoretically be able to acquire the requisite number of electoral college votes should be denied access to the debates…? Does it not reflect an abominable sense of entitlement from both major candidates…?

    That both Obama and McCain would be party to such immorality speaks volumes about their character.
    Neither of these men impress me.

    Having said that, to choose between the two evils, here’s a slick tool: unfuse.com

  • http://www.emmasduqi-ahyar.blogspot.com masduqi

    Obama, I think you can fighting and wining this election. don’t afraid if you lose in vote. that just war of media to appear that you are loser. see next time if you will be the winner….!

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The Open Debate thing would be a lot more compelling if these events were really debates and not just the usual collection of sound bites. And while I support Obama/Biden in the election, it would be a lot easier if his tech policy were not so heavily influenced by charlatans.

  • Tyrone


    “”From the first moment a woman dared to speak that hope – dared to believe that the American Dream was meant for her too – ordinary women have taken on extraordinary odds to give their daughters the chance for something else; for a life more equal, more free, and filled with more opportunity than they ever had. In so many ways we have succeeded, but in so many areas we have much work left to do.” – Barack Obama, Speech in Washington, DC, 11/10/05
    As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Obama is committed to helping the heroes who defend our nation today and the veterans who fought in years past. A grandson of a World War II veteran who went to college on the G.I. Bill, Senator Obama has reached out to Republicans and Democrats in order to honor our commitment to America’s veterans.
    Before the war in Iraq ever started, Senator Obama said that it was wrong in its conception. In 2002, then Illinois State Senator Obama said Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to the United States and that invasion would lead to an occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. Since then, Senator Obama has laid out a plan on the way forward in Iraq that has largely been affirmed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton.

    Throughout America’s history, education has been the vehicle for social and economic mobility, giving hope and opportunity to millions of young people. Our schools must prepare students not only to meet the demands of the global economy, but also help students take their place as committed and engaged citizens. It must ensure that all students have a quality education regardless of race, class, or background. Barack Obama is committed to strengthening our public schools to maximize our country’s greatest natural resource – the American people. Obama believes that we must equip poor and struggling districts, both rural and urban, with the support and resources they need to provide disadvantaged students with an opportunity to reach their full potential. Too often, our leaders present this issue as an either – or debate, divided between giving our schools more funding, or demanding more accountability. Obama believes that we have to do both, and has offered innovative ideas to break through the political stalemate in Washington.

  • Mike

    Americans should be VERY disturbed about what has happened this election season.

    Barrack Obama has advertisements up that say, “Come join the “movement”!” (Movement? I thought we were electing a president?)

    We have a corrupt and biased news media who is furthering the Obama “movement” by hiding all the details of his corrupt and anti-American past.

    We have teachers teaching their students to sing songs praising Obama, much like is done in church when people sing praising God.

    We have a cult-like mindset across the United States. We have people who follow Obama much like the zealots followed Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Hitler.

    We have a presidential candidate who says, “I am the one you have been waiting for” and who designs his OWN presidential seal and now a flag. We have a presidential candidate who doesn’t salute our flag and who goes overseas and talks trash about our country. Yet we have people right here in the United States who still want to vote for him.

    I find all of this very disturbing. I have done my research and tried to find ONE extraordinary thing that Barrack Obama has done in his lifetime to deserve all this worship and devotion.

    Did he ever climb a tree to save a kitten? No. Did he give away all his money to the poor? No. Did he ever travel to a third world country and take along a present or some food for the starving? No.

    So now I am asking one of you Obama-bots who are so soaked in the Obama Kool-aid to tell me ONE thing extraordinary that Barrack Obama has done for his fellow man that has earned your devotion.

    I am only asking for one.

    Feel free to E-Mail me so we can further discuss.