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The Daily Show Staff Now Writing Reality: NBC Throws Down with Romney over Fair Use

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | January 30, 2012 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | January 30, 2012 |

The Republican field might be the weakest it’s been since navies were wooden and petroleum products came from whales, but that isn’t stopping the news trying to turn the entire exercise into reality television. Mitt Romney, the automaton with a heart of gold, though it was forged from the pawned wedding rings of laid off employees, just can’t really seem to find anyone to vote for him. Gingrich of course is the latest challenger to the throne of meh, as seemingly every candidate who has ever appeared on a ballot as a Republican candidate at some point in the last twenty years gets a try out at being not-Romney.

The sheer Schrutian epicness of Gingrich has prompted Romney to unlock the war chest and start hurling incendiary ads at the Newt. But the flames aren’t sticking, if only because newts were alchemically linked to fire and thus impervious to such attacks in this overly extended metaphor.

Romney can’t even win by showing archived footage of Tom Brokaw detailing Congress’ smack down of Gingrich in 1997 with a mountain of ethics violations, because Brokaw and NBC news are demanding that Romney cease using the footage.

Says NBC:

“Aside from the obvious copyright issues, this use of the voice of Mr. Brokaw and the NBC News name exploits him and the journalistic credibility of NBC News.”

A 30 second, unedited clip that includes full documentation of the original time and network of broadcast is just about the perfect example of fair use, and should have absolutely no bearing on copyright in any just system. And as for journalistic integrity? If their own words in context and without spin impugn their integrity, then it is the words themselves that are at fault.

“I am extremely uncomfortable with the extended use of my personal image in this political ad. I do no want my role as a journalist compromised for political gain by any campaign.”

Here’s the problem with this though. This is not Brokaw’s personal image. This is not a video of him that he has some claim to keep private. Copyright issues are something to argue about in a separate place, but I would assert that part of the moral burden assumed by journalists in exchange for the protections that make them legally special is that when they are reporting, they are part of the historical record. That might not be technically public domain as far as copyright law goes, but neither can they claim some personal protection of their image. In this clip, Brokaw’s face and words are part of the historical record. You don’t get to squirrel them away because you don’t like the people who are quoting it.

The Romney campaign is continuing plans to run the ad, shown below, insisting that their use of the news clip clearly falls under fair use.

I’m not a Romney voter, but that right there is one hell of an effective campaign ad.

(source: CNN)

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.