It may look like the news, but it's a political ad

May 16, 2012 5:08:12 PM PDT
It's political campaign season and TV ads are everywhere, including ones featuring ABC13's news coverage. It was a surprise to us on when we saw it for the first time. And may have been confusing to some of you, too. Turns out candidates don't need permission.

This is all legal. It's evolving, but courts have said TV coverage is fair game for fair use, which is why politicians looking for a leg up sometimes use the news to make their point.

It sounds like the news. Even looks the news. But it's a political ad in the Harris County District Attorney's race. Pat Lykos' Republican primary opponent, Mike Anderson, took news clips -- most from ABC13 -- and made the ad to make the point that he's the right guy for the job.

"I think it's getting more difficult to tell what's the news and what's an ad," said Harris County voter Scott Margraves. "I think it's the way it is."

"I think it would be almost illegal," said Don Munton, Harris County voter.

But it's not. Neither ABC13 nor Dave Ward nor Gina Gaston gave Anderson permission or any sort of an endorsement to do it. But Anderson doesn't need it.

"I think it's on the edge," said copyright attorney Tim Headley.

It's called fair use and it's long been part of federal copyright law. The idea is that to keep creativity alive you have to allow some limited "borrowing" of copywritten work.

"The whole idea is we want society to keep progressing forward in its creativity within certain boundaries," Headley said.

But lately courts have said it's OK to use short news clips in political ads.

NBC didn't like it, but didn't sue when Mitt Romney took a 30 second clip from a Newt Gingrich story and replayed it as an ad in January's Florida primary.

And Headley says the courts probably aren't the place to solve this issue.

"I think TV news stations have a far more powerful weapon in their arsenal than a lawsuit," Headley said. "You have control over the local news."

It is important to note again that neither Dave Ward nor Gina Gaston nor ABC13 has ever given a political endorsement and they aren't starting now.


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