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Fox News sues Dem candidate for ‘compromising’ its ‘objectivity’

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UPDATE AT BOTTOM: Fox News donated to Blunt campaign before suing his opponent

Fox News has sued the Democratic candidate for Senate from Missouri, saying an ad her campaign started airing this week infringes on the network’s copyright and compromises the network’s “objectivity.”

Democratic nominee Robin Carnahan’s ad consists mostly of a four-year-old clip from Fox News showing her Republican rival, Rep. Roy Blunt, being aggressively questioned by Fox host Chris Wallace over his ties to lobbyists.

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The Hollywood Reporter states that in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in a US District Court in Missouri, Fox News accused Carnahan of airing a “smear ad” against Blunt. The network reportedly said the ad was meant to imply that Fox News is backing Carnahan.

The lawsuit (PDF) also claims an “invasion of privacy” against Wallace, because his image was “appropriated” for the ad.

Fox News doesn’t mention Carnahan in the ad, as the clip focuses on a 2006 interview of Blunt by Chris Wallace.

“You just said a moment ago that you have to show that you’re the party of reform, but some question whether you are the man to do that,” Wallace tells Blunt. “In 2002, you tried to insert language into the Homeland Security Act to help Philip Morris tobacco while you were dating that company’s lobbyist. And your campaign committee paid $485,000 to a firm linked to Jack Abramoff.”

While Wallace’s words appear to have been edited together from different moments in the interview, removing Blunt’s responses, Fox’s lawsuit describes the clip as an “essentially verbatim copy” of the interview. The Hollywood Reporter states:

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Fox News claims that the “verbatim reproduction” of the interview without consent “(1) allows Defendant to profit commercially without paying the traditional price; (2) causes substantial harm to the value of the FNS Interview, and (3) was based upon the unique expressive content of the FNS Interview.”

The cable news network says that by using the interview, “Defendant harmed the value of the original work by compromising its apparent objectivity.”

The ad has already been removed from Carnahan’s Web site, where it has been replaced with the notice, “The interview with Roy Blunt that Fox News doesn’t want you to see has been temporarily removed. Check back soon.”

But as of press time it was still available for viewing here.

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The Carnahan campaign responded Thursday afternoon to the lawsuit.

“We stand behind our ad and will continue to tell the truth about Congressman Roy Blunt’s attempt to slip a secret provision into the Homeland Security Act to benefit tobacco giant Philip Morris, while he was dating the company’s lobbyist,” the campaign said in a statement sent to the Kansas City Star.

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“It’s unclear why Fox News refuses to stand by its own content that simply asked questions about Congressman Blunt’s Washington record and ties to convicted felon lobbyist Jack Abramoff,” the campaign added.

UPDATE

Fox’s lawsuit “is an apparent escalation of such fair use battles,” reports Ryan J. Reilly at TalkingPointsMemo.

“This is the only case that I know of where a broadcast news organization has sued a political campaign over use of news footage in an ad,” Copyrights & Campaigns blogger Ben Sheffner told Reilly. “There’s been a number of disputes over this issue, but they never got to a court case, that I’m aware.”

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UPDATE II: Fox News donated to Blunt campaign before suing his opponent

News Corp., the parent of Fox News, has donated more than $10,000 to the Senate campaign of Rep. Roy Blunt through its political action committee, including some $2,500 in the current election cycle, Sarah Pavlus reports at MediaMatters.

The company evidently did not donate to Carnahan’s campaign.

Pavlus notes that Fox News Sunday has offered to host a debate between Blunt and Carnahan. “Where does the offer stand now that Fox News and FNS host Chris Wallace are suing the Carnahan campaign?” she asks.

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