In the past few years, web watchers who follow political events directly from primary sources may have noticed that the Federal News Service and their claims of copyright have become more prominent in what you would normally think of as government records in the public domain, which are posted on the web or otherwise available electronically.
However, according to their copyright notices, you'd be wrong. Whether it is transcripts of Intelligence Committee Hearings or military briefings from Pentagon officials about Iraq, this service threatens those who disseminate public information about the workings of our democracy with dire consequences. Unfortunately they have a lock on certain government documents, many of which can't be gotten through other means, even from other commercial services like LexisNexis.
To give you the flavor of their legalism, here is the language posted at the bottom of a briefing to the press:
COPYRIGHT 2005, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE. NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED. UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.
The news service, which was founded in 1984 during the Reagan era of privatization, is now run by president Cheryl A. Reagan (no relation to the Former commander in Chief), who is also the owner of the Grace News Network, along with Thorne G. Auchter, who has a Sourcewatch page of his own. Ms. Reagan has been described as a "fundamentalist Christian millionaire" who is proud to claim that the latter organization "will be reporting the current secular news, along with aggressive proclamations that will ‘change the news’ to reflect the Kingdom of God and its purposes.” Grace News Network was also strangely given a contract by the U.S. government for broadcasting Arabic language news in Muslim Iraq after the occupation. Reagan has also had well-documented bankruptcy woes, as this chronology reveals.
FNS has a terrible anti-trust history under its previous head Cortes W. Randell, a shady character who went on to run eModel, which garnered bad publicity for its fraudulent claims and financial troubles. In connection with an earlier venture, the National Student Marketing Corporation, Randell was featured in a New York Times "Rogue's Gallery." Almost unbelievably, I must point out that Randell took charge of the FNS and enjoyed the benefits of a government contract AFTER the Times described him as a "convicted stock swindler." Randell had been involved with FNS as late as 2002, although now he is apparently involved in a Washington-based Christian ministry that warns of "Nazi Islamic Fascism." As the Times admits, the scary thing is that the media has been depending on FNS coverage for decades despite all the stranger-than-fiction church-state, anti-trust, and financial mismanagement issues.
The incursions of this organization into the free culture of the public sphere urgently deserve attention from the copyfight community.
By the way, in that spirit, belated wishes to all for Happy Public Domain Day.