CNN to Make Debate Video Available to Public

CNN will make its video of the presidential debates available free to the public, the cable news network announced over the weekend. The footage will be released without restrictions at the conclusion of each live debate aired by CNN.

The policy will apply to all of CNN’s presidential debates, beginning with the upcoming New Hampshire debates in June. The Democratic candidates will debate on June 3 with the Republicans following on June 7.

“Due to the historical nature of presidential debates and the significance of these forums to the American public, CNN believes strongly that the debates should be accessible to the public,” CNN said in a Saturday statement.

The decision comes less than a week after Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig launched a campaign to make debate footage free for anyone to access, edit, share or blog with proper attribution. The proposal gained the immediate support of a wide range of liberals and conservatives.

In previous presidential debates, networks retained the exclusive rights on the debate footage.

“This is exactly the sort of leadership one hopes to see from that network,” Lessig wrote on his blog Saturday. “This is fantastic news for citizen generated content.”

The initiative also gained its third presidential candidate endorsement over the weekend with U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) joining Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former U.S. Senator John Edwards in endorsing the idea.

In a letter to Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean, Dodd wrote, “It is in our interest as a Party to make public our ideas by allowing video of the presidential debates to be viewed by anyone, at any time.”

Obama was the first candidate to endorse the plan.

“I am a strong believer in the importance of copyright, especially in a digital age. But there is no reason that this particular class of content needs the protection,” Obama’s camp wrote to Dean. “Rather than restricting the product of those debates, we should instead make sure that our democracy and citizens have the chance to benefit from them in all the ways that technology makes possible.”

The DNC said in an e-mail statement to Friday, “We are already exploring ways to make the DNC-sanctioned debates more accessible and will continue to work on this and other issues in our discussions with the networks.”

The Republican National Committee (RNC) did not return calls for comment.

With the RNC silent on the issue, Lessig said he was a “bit surprised,” but noted a number of prominent Republican bloggers and Internet activists had joined the campaign, including Patrick Ruffini, the 2005-2006 RNC eCampaign director.

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