When A Network Owns The Story. Literally.

We've seen that there are a host of restrictions on how much networks other than NBC – which owns the rights to the coverage – can broadcast of the Olympic Games. There's also a reason why on the evening news broadcasts on Wednesday night, you only caught a few clips of Brit Hume's interview with Vice President Dick Cheney. To see the entire interview, you'd have to be watching Fox News. Of course, the same standard was true of Bob Schieffer's interview with President Bush a few weeks back – if you wanted to see the whole thing, you had to watch it on CBS. These programs are considered the property of their respective networks, so they're subject to copyright laws.

When it comes to news material (among other things), however, something called "fair use" applies. I'm not going to get too deep into the weeds because, well, I'm not a lawyer and you'd likely fall asleep at your keyboard. (For those interested, there's a good overview here.) Instead, I'll offer just a bit of insight about how and why these interviews appear as they do.

"Fair use is a specific exception to the rule that you can't use someone else's copyrighted material," Heddy Gold, vice president of business affairs at CBS News, explained.

Basically, each network owns the rights to its own interview. Fair use offers an exception to the copyrights associated with that interview, so other networks can rebroadcast portions of it if the material meets specific criteria – and it's also subject to interpretation by the courts. Generally, however, news material often meets these criteria – but with limitations. For example, there must be a clear reason the clip is being used in terms of its news value. When Vice President Cheney spoke for the first time about his hunting accident – a subject that had been in the headlines for days – the news value of his statements is fairly obvious. So networks' arguments for rebroadcasting it based on the rights of fair use are pretty solid. At the same time, that doesn't mean that NBC can rebroadcast CBS' interview in full – in that case, NBC's right to disseminate newsworthy information from public airwaves would not trump CBS' right to ownership of the interview. Essentially, other networks can't exploit the interview for commercial purposes – that's the right of the owner of the material – but they can use portions of it because they have a right, as news outlets, to share the information.

In recent years, since all news organizations assume that if they broadcast an exclusive, newsworthy interview, other networks are within their legal rights to rebroadcast clips, they have begun to send out advisories that map out the parameters for that usage. "By and large, the networks are good at respecting each other's advisories," says Gold. Just as one network wants restrictions on its own interviews adhered to, it will usually adhere to those of another.

If you saw clips of Schieffer's interview with President Bush on a network other than CBS, those clips were used (as far as I know) in accordance with the restrictions that CBS had sent to the networks. Fox News offered similar terms to networks who wanted to rebroadcast portions of Hume's interview with Cheney. Terms typically consist of things like making sure the network that conducted the interview gets an onscreen credit (i.e: "Courtesy of Fox News Channel.") There are also limitations on how much of the interview may air in a single program. For example, CBS' advisory restricted to one minute the portions of Scheiffer's interview with Bush that could appear. There are also limits on when the excerpts can begin to run on other networks and when they must stop. For example, CBS stipulated that excerpts from the Bush interview only run within a specified 24-hour period following the airing of the "Evening News" portion of the interview and the portion that aired on "Face the Nation."

Fair use also applies to the Internet, but the generally accepted practices are "much more murky," says Gold. Networks are generally very reluctant to grant other networks permission to put excerpts of their programs on the Internet. On the advisories for Schieffer's interview with Bush as well as Fox's interview with Cheney, both specified that no permission would be granted for Internet usage. According to Gold, news organizations are reluctant to allow other networks to put portions of interviews on their Web sites because it is more difficult to control the distribution of a video once it is on the Internet. For an interview rebroadcast on television, news outlets can stipulate that the clips must end on a certain date, for example. On the Web, interviews could be continually linked to other sites and potentially remain online indefinitely.

What you will usually find on the Internet are full transcripts of interviews. The transcript of Fox's interview with Cheney was available online at outlets other than Fox News. One reason for this is that the White House released its own transcript of the interview, but when it comes to transcripts, networks generally don't make specifications about where they can and cannot appear. The rights really apply to the interview as it is captured on tape, says Gold.

As the networks continue to enhance their Web presence, arguments over fair use on the Internet will likely become more frequent, and the restrictions that news outlets send out may have to bend to the need to distribute portions of each other's video content online. As the means of distributing information expand, so do the legal implications.