Smithsonian signs away your past

(via boingboing)

Well, maybe not quite “signs away your past” really, but certainly the Smithsonian is certainly making a choice to restrict a lot of content paid for by your (and my) tax dollars. The Smithsonian has signed a first-refusal deal with Showtime networks which gives Showtime the power to decide who can and cannot use video in the Smithsonian’s archives. Oh, it might be worth mentioning that some of that content is public domain. But Showtime still gets to decide who can use it. Hmmmmm.

On March 9, Showtime and the Smithsonian announced the creation of Smithsonian Networks, a joint venture to develop television programming. Under the agreement, the joint venture has the right of first refusal to commercial documentaries that rely heavily on Smithsonian collections or staff. Those works would first have to be offered to Smithsonian on Demand, the cable channel that is expected to be the venture’s first programming service.

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One well-known filmmaker, Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, said she had been told recently by a Smithsonian staff member that her last film, “Tupperware!,” a history of the creation and marketing of the venerable food-storage containers, would have fallen under the arrangement, because much of the history of Tupperware is housed at the Smithsonian. The documentary, which won a Peabody Award in 2004, was broadcast on “American Experience,” the PBS show produced by WGBH, the Boston public television station.

“This is a public archive,” Ms. Kahn-Leavitt said. “This should not be offered on an exclusive basis to anyone, and it’s not good enough that they can decide on a case-by-case basis what they will and won’t approve.”