Very Poor Choice

January 19, 2009 1:03 p.m.

As most of you likely know, the inauguration committee sold HBO the exclusive rights to broadcast yesterday’s inaugural concert festivities. I don’t think that was a good idea since certainly not every American subscribes or can subscribe to HBO. But they at least had it available free on their website. But now it seems that HBO is going over Youtube with a fine tooth comb and having all clips of the event pulled under copyright claims. Want to see the special moment where an 89 year old Pete Seeger sang This Land Is Your Land on the footsteps of the Lincoln Memorial? Tough luck.

Now, logically, the one follows from the other. They claim a copyright in the video of this event. And so they can prevent anyone from uploading it to Youtube — though I’d be eager to see someone challenge them legally on it because I’m not sure how strong their claim really is against the use of short clips. But the fact that Americans can’t show other Americans brief segments of these events because HBO owns the event in perpetuity just puts in much higher relief how ill-conceived a decision that was.

Late Update: A reader points out, and I think I’d heard this, that HBO descrambled their channel during the presentation itself. So basic cable subscribers still got to see it. I don’t think that changes the thrust of what I said above. But it’s an important detail.

Later Update: Alas, okay, another important qualifier. It turns out HBO does not own the copyright. They have a six month license. The inaugural committee owns it. Not as bad as I thought.

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