May 4, 2006 | By Fred von Lohmann

Update from the Smithsonian Front

Responding to pressure from Congress, the Smithsonian has said that it will "review" its controversial deal with Showtime Networks.

As we've discussed in previous posts (1, 2) and has been extensively covered in the press, the Smithsonian recently inked a controversial deal with Showtime Networks that grants a new Showtime channel exclusive commercial access to Smithsonian collections for anything beyond "incidental" uses. This puts the public domain in jeopardy because controlling access to the only existing copies of a public domain work can easily become the equivalent of a new copyright.

The Smithsonian claims that critics of the Showtime deal simply do not understand its terms. Of course, it is difficult to evaluate this claim, because the Smithsonian refuses to make the contract terms public. The Smithsonian continues to stonewall, despite requests from historians, librarians, and the Center for American Progress (EFF represents CAP in connection with their FOIA request to the Smithsonian).

Let's hope that some sunshine is shed on the Showtime deal during the "review" they will be undertaking. At a minimum, the Smithsonian should make the Showtime agreement available, so that we can have an informed public debate about it.

UPDATE: The Smithsonian has issued a press release claiming that "While the financial terms have not been made public due to the confidentiality of the contract, all aspects of the contract related to access to the Smithsonian have been divulged and explained." Of course, it still has not actually made any of contractual terms available (even after redacting the "financial terms"). So the public (which puts up 75% of the Smithsonian's budget) still doesn't know exactly how much of the "nation's attic" has been locked up.


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