John McCain Used to Feel Very Differently About Copyright and Campaign Ads on YouTube
This week, John McCain’s reelection campaign found itself in the bizarre position of asking YouTube to restrict access to one of the senator’s own campaign ads, citing a copyright violation.
The campaign of Ann Kirkpatrick, the sitting U.S. congresswoman from Arizona who is running against McCain, uploaded a version of a 2010 McCain ad to YouTube with Spanish subtitles added, using the senator’s own words as an implicit critique of his stance on immigration, and by extension, his relations with Arizona’s large Hispanic community. The spot shows McCain railing against crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and urging a border patrol agent to “complete the danged fence.”
McCain’s camp filed a copyright claim with YouTube about the ad, and it was removed from the site earlier this week. As of this morning, the video seems to have been reinstated, and you can watch it above. A Kirkpatrick spokesman said the campaign had not filed a copyright counter-claim with YouTube, and it is unclear how or why the subtitled version of the ad reappeared. (Representatives of the McCain campaign did not respond to requests for comment, and a YouTube spokesperson declined to comment on the record.)
McCain’s views on fair use on the streaming service have evidently shifted since 2008, when he formally requested that YouTube stop pulling down his own ads on copyright grounds. McCain was running for president against Barack Obama when YouTube removed several of his own ads for “using excerpts of television debate footage, and pop songs as soundtracks, without negotiating for the rights first,” Wired reported at the time.
The senator responded not by apologizing to the rights-holders, but by lobbying YouTube to change the rules so that his ads could still run. In October 2008, McCain campaign general counsel Trevor Potter submitted a formal letter to Google, YouTube’s parent company, urging them to loosen their copyright policies for political ads, which read, in part:
“We write...to alert you to a problem that has already chilled free and uninhibited discourse, and to propose a solution. First, the problem: overreaching copyright claims have resulted in the removal of non-infringing campaign videos from YouTube, thus silencing political speech.”
If Kirkpatrick’s McCain ad is different from the ads the senator’s campaign defended eight years ago, it is by a matter of degree, not category. Just as McCain appropriated a Franki Valli song without permission to make a political point about Obama’s relationship with the media, Kirkpatrick appropriated her opponent’s own footage to make a point about his stance on immigration.
After positioning himself as an anti-immigration hardliner in 2010, McCain has since softened his stance. In 2013, he was a member of the “Gang of Eight,” the bipartisan group of senators who drafted that year’s immigration reform bill, and this year, he has said that a Donald Trump candidacy could make the upcoming election the must difficult one of his life. As his views on immigration have evolved, so too have his ideas about copyright.