Crikey editor Jonathan Green (that’s me) received a letter yesterday from the Legal Services department of the ABC. It was marked not for publication, but we’ll summarise. It made a pair of demands. First that we remove from Crikey’s YouTube account a series of video clips sourced from ABC footage that showed environment minister Penny Wong’s 16 July address to the National Press Club introducing the Government’s Green Paper on the mooted Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (a speech as dull and long-winded as that sentence). Second, the senior ABC lawyer also demanded that we sign a written undertaking that in future we desist from filching the ABC’s “intellectual property”.

We’ve taken down the video clips, and presume that the totalled 477 views probably represent the accumulated public interest in the vision. We won’t be signing any written undertakings.

We also thought Crikey readers might be interested in this small insight into the thinking of the taxpayer-funded national broadcaster. Clearly by strict definition, we have infringed the ABC’s copyright. But you might also argue that the ABC broadcasts functions like National Press Club lunches addressed by the environment minister as an act of public service conducted in line with its legislated charter obligations. You could also argue that we aided in that objective by promoting the ABC-watermarked footage that little bit further through on-line links and YouTube.

The situation is of course muddier than that, thanks to a public broadcaster that increasingly sees its primary obligation as seeking to profit financially from its content and accordingly protecting its copyright with fierce intent and lawyers letters. We would argue that a Minister of the crown engaged in a significant public policy announcement recorded by a taxpayer funded not for profit public broadcaster might produce material that should reasonably fall into the freely available public domain. Not a view shared by the ABC apparently. The fact that these lunches are run by a for-profit private club and sponsored by a leading bank then packaged into DVD form for sale, only complicates things further.

The ABC’s current position seems to mark something of a Seachange (available now in DVD boxed sets from ABC shops and major retailers). In 2007 a well publicised prank saw segments from the Chaser’s War On Everything removed from YouTube after the posters received fake lawyers letters purporting to be from the ABC. No such letters were sent and the Corporation’s then head of arts entertainment and comedy, Courtney Gibson, expressed the view that, “(the ABC) wishes to get our content out there on as many platforms as possible, run by as many different operators as possible.”

Times have changed. 

Peter Fray

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