Skip to content

Federal judge orders halt to candidate’s ads using C-SPAN footage

Post categories

  1. Content Restrictions

    NMU         MISSOURI         Copyrights & Trademarks         Oct 31, 2000    

Federal judge orders halt to candidate’s ads using C-SPAN footage

  • A House candidate may not run a commercial using footage obtained from C-SPAN of his opponent addressing a gay rights group.

A Republican candidate for the House of Representatives must quit airing a television ad that uses 26 seconds of a speech aired on C-SPAN, a federal judge ruled on Oct. 30. U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw in St. Louis enjoined Bill Federer from running a political ad that shows his opponent, Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), speaking at a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force dinner.

C-SPAN sued the candidate for copyright violation and trademark infringement. The advertisement begins with the opening scene of C-SPAN’s usual program and shows the network’s signature photograph of the Capitol from its Washington, D.C., office. The commercial makes liberal use of C-SPAN footage, including an introduction by its announcer, and its logo.

Federer claimed his use of news footage is a “fair use,” the doctrine of copyright law which allows limited copying of copyrighted works for limited purposes such as news reporting, criticism and teaching.

Shaw dismissed Federer’s fair use argument. “The fact that every second of defendants’ 30-second commercial contains C-SPAN material also weighs against fair use,” he wrote in the injunction order. The court also found that allowing the commercial to continue to air would “lead to significant harm to C-SPAN’s market because C-SPAN’s mission and credibility would be compromised.”

Trademark law protects consumers from confusion over the source of products. Mark Sableman, attorney for C-SPAN, said the ad’s liberal use of the cable station’s logo and accouterments — called “trade dress” — would confuse viewers.

“Here the most egregious thing was that the viewer wouldn’t know — even until they were 90 percent into it — that it was anything other than a mini-C-SPAN report,” he said.

Sableman also argued that Federer’s ad diluted or tarnished C-SPAN’s trademark.

“C-SPAN is absolutely relentlessly non-partisan and feels that’s essential to their image,” he said. “It is also very committed to this doing un-cut, unexpurgated, full gavel-to-gavel coverage. So it is very upset about being associated with sound bites.”

The judge’s order indicated it was likely that C-SPAN would win on all counts and ordered Federer not to use any audio or video recording produced by C-SPAN and not to use any of C-SPAN’s logos or trade dress.

(Natl. Cable Satellite Corp. v. Federer for Congress Committee, Media Counsel: Mark Sableman, Thompson Coburn, St. Louis, Mo.) DB

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Return to: RCFP Home; News Page