TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist's use of a video clip of U.S. Senate rival Marco Rubio prompted a state-run TV station to accuse Crist of a copyright law violation, and the video of Rubio has vanished from Crist's campaign Web site.
In its place is a black screen and the message: "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Florida State University dba WFSU-TV."
The state-funded Tallahassee public TV station says the Crist campaign violated a well-known law that bars use of its video for political purposes. The Crist campaign says the station engaged in censorship to the detriment of Florida voters, and that use of the Rubio footage falls under an exemption from copyright law known as "fair use."
WFSU is licensed to Florida State — Crist's alma mater — and operates the Florida Channel, which provides round-the-clock coverage of the Legislature and state government. On March 13, 2008, then-House Speaker Rubio appeared on WFSU's Florida Face to Face, a weekly newsmaker program, and discussed his views on climate change, including a fossil-fuel tax proposal known as cap and trade.
"I'm in favor of giving the Department of Environmental Protection a mandate that they go out and design a federal cap-and-trade program, a carbon tax program," Rubio said.
Crist's Web site produced ads titled "Rubio Flip Flop" and "Rubio Cap and Trade." The Rubio campaign called it a "slicing and dicing" of Rubio's words, and the full interview shows that Rubio felt a federal cap-and-trade law was inevitable and that the state should be ready to implement it, subject to legislative approval.
But the strongest reaction came from WFSU, which demanded that the video come down immediately.
The station cited a state law that makes it a second-degree misdemeanor for anyone to use the "facilities, plant or personnel of any educational television system … for the promotion, advertisement or advancement of any political candidate."
"That material, in our view, belongs to us, and they did not have permission to use it," WFSU general manager Patrick Keating said.
Discussions with lawyers quickly ensued, Keating said. On Thursday, he filed an online copyright infringement complaint with YouTube, where the video of Rubio was linked to charliecrist.com. "YouTube took action. They stopped the video from playing," Keating said.
Ben Ginsberg, a Washington attorney who represents Crist, said the Rubio video should be permitted in a political campaign.
"This is a nonprofit political campaign engaging in political speech — the highest form of protected speech under the First Amendment," Ginsberg said. "The Florida Channel has censored the exchange of information between two political candidates."
Ginsberg said Keating should read the law closer, because it also says that "fair, open and free discussion between political candidates … may be permitted … to ensure that the state's citizens are fully informed about issues and candidates in campaigns."
Keating said the law is designed to prevent WFSU's video from being used for political advantage. "I'm just trying to protect our product and live up to the terms of our agreement with the Legislature," he said.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.