From a twitter thread by Philip Boucher-Hayes last week, I learned that Ken Foxe had reported in the Irish Mail on Sunday that nearly ten years of video footage of Oireachtas debates and hearings had been taken offline. A spokesperson for the Houses of the Oireachtas said that the videos were removed because they had little traffic and were in an obsolete format. However, after an outcry online, the footage was restored, though with limited functionality. To overcome first the takedown, and then the limitations, various concerned netizens – including, I understand, Gerard Cunningham, Emerald De Leeuw, Elaine Edwards, and Sterling Plisken – have begun work on a publicly curated online archive of Oireachtas debates and hearings.
This is not the first time that civil society has had to step up when public functions have stepped back (see the story of the demise and return of KildareStreet.com, with various backups here and here). So, I think that a publicly curated online archive of Oireachtas debates is a fantastic idea, and I hope it prospers. It also provides a context in which I can discuss an important issue relating to Oireachtas copyright and digital deposit.
First, the Oireachtas holds copyright in the broadcast material. Chapter 19 of Part II of the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000 [CRRA] (that is, sections 191 to 195 CRRA (also here and here)) provides for Government and Oireachtas copyright. In particular, section 193(2)(b) CRRA (also here)
provides that the Oireachtas holds copyright in “any sound recording, film, live broadcast or live cable programme of the proceedings of either House of the Oireachtas”. So, the starting point of the copyright analysis has to be that the Oireachtas could therefore in principle rely on this copyright to restrict the reproduction of the Oireachtas broadcasts, or making them available online.
The copyright in a work is not infringed by anything done for the purposes of parliamentary or judicial proceedings or for the purpose of reporting those proceedings.
The question, therefore, is whether a publicly curated online archive of Oireachtas debates and hearings is reproduced and made available for the purposes of “reporting” Oireachtas proceedings within section 71 CRRA. There is a comprehensive discussion of the issue by Simon McGarr on his Tuppenceworth.ie blog. I think that the argument that the archive would be a report for the purposes of section 71 CRRA could go a very long way towards permitting the production of a publicly curated online archive of Oireachtas debates and hearings. However, there must be limits to what constitutes a “report”. And it may be that the archive exceeds them, at least in some respects.
Third, if section 71 CRRA isn’t enough, then a current reform process might provide another exception to permit the production of a publicly curated online archive of Oireachtas debates and hearings. (more…)