OSLO, Norway - When President Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize yesterday, a single Swedish company controlled the dissemination of his words.
Obama's speech was recorded exclusively by Norwegian national television and distributed by Nobel Media AB, a company formed by the Sweden-based Nobel Foundation in 2004 to strengthen control over its intellectual property.
In previous years, independent media could record the first five minutes of the ceremony. Nobel Media did not allow that this year because, the company said, it would conflict with Obama's security requirements.
The limitations didn't impede the distribution of Obama's speech: Media around the world could broadcast as much as they wanted live. But any outlet that wanted to play a recorded snippet was limited to a maximum of three minutes that ran consecutively and uninterrupted.
All footage was emblazoned with the Nobel Media logo.
Nobel Media also barred Web sites from live streaming of the ceremony, limiting live online coverage to the Nobel Foundation's Web site, nobelprize.org.
Nobel Media charges a relatively small fee to media outlets, several thousand euros in many cases. chief executive officer Camilla Hylten-Cavallius said the primary goal of its restrictions on the footage was not making money but making sure coverage of the Nobel ceremony is not manipulated or abused.
The company doesn't "primarily do this in the interest of profiting off of it, but in order to know where the material is spread," Hylten-Cavallius said.
However, Hylten-Cavallius also acknowledged that the three-minute rule helped the company retain "exclusivity" on the Nobel Foundation's Web site. The site contains full-length, on-demand videos of Nobel lectures.
She said streaming the ceremony only on the Web site was an experiment to see if it would drive more traffic there.
"The goal has been to gain control over these rights that have previously been free for everyone for so many years," she said. "We have to evaluate it and see how it works and perhaps we'll do it differently next year."
Entertainment events such as the Oscars generally have far more broadcast restrictions, as do virtually all top-tier sports, incluing the Olympics and soccer's World Cup. None can be aired live, unlike the Nobels, unless costly TV rights are purchased.
In both Norway, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, and Sweden, where the other five awards are given out, the national broadcaster films on the company's behalf.
Sweden's TV4 had the rights to film Nobel events in Sweden on behalf of Nobel Media, but the company canceled the contract in 2008 after China Central Television and Shanghai Media Group cut out parts of a speech by the Nobel Foundation chairman, Marcus Storch. The excised section mentioned an exhibition in Norway about the importance of freedom of expression in democracies.