privatizing public goods (our tax dollars at work) 08.03.2007, 2:46 PM
posted by ben vershbow
The National Archives is at it again. After announcing in January its exclusive agreement with Footnote.com to digitize and offer priced access to millions of public domain historical records, NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) has now inked a deal with Amazon to distribute significant parts of its vast archival films collection commercially on DVD and online.
As reported by the Cumberland Times News:
The arrangement allows Amazon - and a subsidiary, CustomFlix Labs Inc. - to copy National Archives films and video onto DVDs, and sell them to the public via the Internet.
The Archives will initially make available its collection of Universal Newsreels, dating from 1920 to 1967. Thousands of other public-domain and government films will be made available later.
Included in the initial offerings are events as diverse as the famous 1959 "Kitchen Debate" between then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and footage of a youthful Fidel Castro after the communist revolution in Cuba. Newsreels that will become available later include coverage of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the end of World War II, and the royal wedding of Princess Margaret.
National Archives officials said the arrangement will greatly expand the availability of the collection. Previously, such films could only be viewed and recorded at the Archives facility in College Park.
No doubt NARA should doing everything in its power to digitize and increase access to its vaults, but locking materials down through commercial partnerships is no way to run a public trust. In a more commendable move, NARA put up a draft of another digitization/distribution agreement it has in the works, this one with the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU), and they've even opened it up to public comment. They ought to do the same with the Amazon deal, and while they're at it, offer less antiquated mechanisms for the public to make their voices heard. As it stands, comments on the GSU draft can be submitted in the following ways:
* postal mail
* hand delivery or courier
Hey, why not use CommentPress?
Brian on August 3, 2007 3:42 PM:
I was grumpy about this too. How about NARA applying some imagination to find better answers?
bowerbird on August 3, 2007 4:10 PM:
stop these giveaways from the public sector!
i don't know if these deals are "honest mistakes"
or the result of ill-intentioned republicans, but
whatever the cause, they need to be halted, now,
by any means necessary, including court challenges.
maybe someone can get larry lessig's attention...
Joe on August 4, 2007 9:44 AM:
How does the agreement mentioned above lock down access to the materials? Will citizens no longer be able to request the materials from the archives once Amazon/CustomFlix has digitized them?
I would agree that it would be cool if the archives could provide digital copies of things under more open terms, but that's a funding question separate from this partnership. I also think that the Archive shouldn't be spending public money to facilitate a commercial project -- but I can't find where it says they are. (I only followed a couple of your links -- I'm asking honestly, not argumentatively.)
bowerbird on August 5, 2007 3:56 PM:
> Will citizens no longer be able to
> request the materials from the archives
> once Amazon/CustomFlix has digitized them?
as quoted in the post, a newspaper said:
> Previously, such films could only be
> viewed and recorded at the Archives facility
> in College Park.
so it's not as if this stuff is easily available.
> I would agree that it would be cool
> if the archives could provide digital copies
> of things under more open terms, but that's
> a funding question separate from this partnership.
i'm sure that brewster kahle at internet archive
would be quite happy to host all of this stuff,
so it's _not_ "a funding question", but n.a.r.a.
isn't making _that_ kind of announcement, is it?
kind of ironic, isn't it, that youtube is willing
to host any kind of nonsense you want to upload,
but the n.a.r.a. is unwilling to bite the bullet
to host great historically-significant footage.
on the contrary, they're inviting the capitalists
to come and skim all the profit cream to do it...
our government bureaucrats are bungling badly...