Smithsonian Sunshine

Carl Malamud writes in email: “Don’t know if you’re following the Smithsonian/Showtime deal in which our national heritage has been auctioned off to the highest bidder. Though IANAL, I took the liberty of drafting a FOIA request [PDF] to see if we can get the contract governing this giveaway out into the open.”

On his web page describing the problem, entitled Smithsonian Sunshine, Carl writes:

Smithsonian Institution recently entered into a new business venture with Showtime Networks, Inc. that has been causing a great deal of controversy. Noted documentarian Ken Burns was quoted in the New York Times as saying this arrangement would have “prohibited him from making some of his recent works.”

…Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said the details of the contract were confidential.

The Smithsonian Institution represents our national heritage. While it is clear that funding for the Institution is not adequate and the U.S. Congress needs to step up to the plate to adequately fund this vital national resource, this is no excuse for a public corporation created by the U.S. Congress to promote “the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men” to auction off their archives to the highest bidder.

Public knowledge requires public disclosure. The Smithsonian Institution should disclose the terms of their contract so that an informed public debate over the merits can take place.

I’m with Carl. This deal may be on the up and up, but I’d sure like to know its terms. The trend towards locking up what used to be the commons is a serious worry for anyone who knows that innovation grows out of a rich cultural heritage that is available to all.