The Democratic National Committee sanctioned six debates Wednesday. A group of organizers wants the debates licensed as Creative Commons or placed in the public domain so they can be aired legally on YouTube and used in blogs.
The group -- which includes members of both major political parties, as well as Craig Newmark and Jimmy Wales, the founders of Cragislist and Wikipedia -- used the occasion to renew demands that the material be made available without restrictions. The alliance has sent letters asking both parties' national committees to use their power to press for free and open airing of the debates.
"I am very hopeful that both the Republicans and the Democrats will help encourage the extraordinary public discussion around the election that the Internet has enabled, by removing any uncertainty about the right of the people to comment upon the speech of presidential candidates," Lessig said in a statement.
CNN announced last week that its footage would be open.
"Due to the historical nature of presidential debates and the significance of these forums to the American public, CNN believes strongly that the debates should be accessible to the public," the division of Turner Broadcasting Company said in a news release.
"The candidates need to be held accountable for what they say throughout the election process. The presidential debates are an integral part of our system of government, in which the American people have the opportunity to make informed choices about who will serve them. Therefore, CNN debate coverage will be made available without restrictions at the conclusion of each live debate. We believe this is good for the country and good for the electoral process."
Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, said the debates "belong to the people, not to powerful media interests" and should be available to all who want to use the images and video for commentary and debate.
Democratic candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Chris Dodd also are calling for the DNC and the RNC to ensure that the debates they sanction are open for public access, use, modification, and redistribution. Redstate.com and MoveOn.org are also behind the push to open the debates to the widest audience possible.
Several Internet news outlets and bloggers cited an internal NBC memo and reported that NBC has specifically banned Internet distribution of the video. The validity of the memo and NBC's terms and conditions for the debate could not be immediately confirmed Thursday. NBC did not respond to requests for comment.
Adam Green, of MoveOn.org Civic Action urged the DNC to pressure NBC to "stop living in the past" and follow CNN's example.
"This is about the Internet empowering the little guy in our democracy," Green said in a statement. "The big TV networks should not be the only ones determining which sound bites are newsworthy after a debate -- everyday people should be able to put candidates' positions on YouTube and share them with others without fear of breaking the law."
Michael Turk, former eCampaign director for the Republican National Committee, agrees. He issued a statement arguing that "it is critical that both parties conduct the discussions and debates between candidates in a transparent way."