Carl Malamud is working on opening video of U.S. Congressional committee meetings to the public. You may wonder, doesn't C-Span do that already? Well, C-Span broadcasts via cable Congressional meetings, but with a C-Span copyright on them. And C-Span has taken to trying to enforce that copyright. This became news when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi started a blog, The Gavel, and posted some video with the C-Span copyright:
...last week, as it happens, C-Span did contact the speaker's office to have it take down a different clip from her blog--one shot by C-Span's cameras at a House Science and Technology Committee hearing on global warming where Pelosi testified, Daly said. (The blog has substituted material filmed by the committee's cameras, he said.)
Which videos are protected? Lawmakers get a lesson After Nancy Pelosi was accused of "pirating" clips from C-Span, members of Congress were introduced to the complexities of copyright law. By Noam Cohen, The New York Times, Published: February 26, 2007, 6:41 AM PST
This isn't the first time C-Span has asserted such copyright.
In May 2006, it had YouTube take down video of Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspndent's Dinner. According to Wikipedia, that wasn't even the first such case:
C-SPAN has engaged in numerous actions to stop parties from making unauthorized uses of their content online including cases where the footage is the House and Senate proceedings. For example, Dem Bloggers received a take down request for clips they had posted.  In February of 2006, WRPI's Dennis Karius was fired for airing copyrighted audio from C-SPAN's web stream on his radio program.  In May 2006, C-SPAN requested the removal of the Stephen Colbert performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner from YouTube while allowing it to remain on Google Video , causing concern from web bloggers. 
C-SPAN and Intellectual Property, Wikipedia, Collected 2 Mar 2007 9:17AM CST
However, even C-Span says
House and Senate floor debates are "government works," shot by government-owned cameras, and thus in the public domain.
On 14 December 2006, C-Span requested Speaker Pelosi to have C-Span cameras cover House floor proceedings, which would put video of them under the same copyright protection as C-Span's committee videos. The Speaker declined the request.
So, how to get access to video from government-owned cameras, not C-Span? C-Span apparently archives it, but then copyrights the archives and charges for them.
Carl Malamud has offered to buy C-Span's entire archive for $1,059,544, which is what he figures is the total at C-Span's own stated price.
C-Span has previously complained that it can't make money without such sales:
C-Span had some YouTube gold in May when Stephen Colbert's speech to the White House Correspondents Association garnered 27 million views in two days. But C-Span insisted the video come down. "What I think a lot of people don't understand–C-Span is a business, just like CNN is," Collins said. "If we don't have a revenue stream, we wouldn't have six crews ready to cover Congressional hearings."
Who owns Congressional video - public or C-Span? ZDNet Government Blog, February 26, 2007
Malamud punctures that balloon in his letter:
There is something else that people don't understand, and that is that C-SPAN is a nonprofit business that has been paid handsomely for providing a valuable public service. According to Guidestar, C-SPAN, doing business as the National Cable Satellite Corporation, had revenues for the year ending March 31, 2005 of $52,437,531 and expenses of only $48,858,668. In other years, the excess of revenue over expense has been even greater. Indeed, C-SPAN had stashed away $93,886,282 in total assets, a large part of which is in cash and securities. (Form 990). In addition, the C-SPAN Educational Foundation had net assets of $2,591,238 on March 31, 2005 (Form 990).
Meanwhile, Malamud is not sitting on his hands. It turns out that Congress streams webcasts of its own cameras. That material is thus not under C-Span copyright. It's also not archived, but that's a mere technical glitch, which Malamud is already addressing.
The U.S. Congress provides webcasts for many of their hearings. In all cases, the hearings are streaming only, in many cases they are "live only" (no archive of the stream). In some cases, the committees even put a "copyright, all rights reserved" notice on the hearings!
This is really dumb. So, I've started ripping all congressional streams starting with the house and posting them in a nonproprietary format for download, tagging, review, and annotation at Google Video and another copy at the Internet Archive (just to prove this is a nondenominational issue :).
This is a Tom Sawyer hack, a la "painting this fence is *loads* of fun!" I intend to prove to the Congressional webmasters that it is so much fun doing their web sites for them that they'll want to do it themselves so that I go away. Until then, look for "Carl Malamud on behalf of the U.S. Congress" for official news.
Ripping (off) the Congressional video record, Carl Malamud, BoingBoing, Monday, February 26, 2007
He's already collected video of quite a few hearings (see the links above).
Lest you think this is some Don Quixote tilting at windmills, this is the same Carl Malamud who got the SEC to publish its material in what is now the the EDGAR database (1994) and who got the PTO to publish full patents online (1998). In both cases, he used similar techniques of just going ahead and doing it until the relevant government body saw the light and took over from him.
Open government is good risk management.
Hey, maybe somebody can get the FCC to use RSS and post more of its materials. It is the Federal Communications Commission, after all!