1 August 2007
The US National Archives has inked another commercial deal to sell public domain materials. In this case, film and video. The “non-exclusive” agreement is with Amazon.com’s CustomFlix Labs, who will let you initially buy on-demand DVDs of any of “thousands” of Universal Newsreels, dating from 1920 to 1967 from the Archives collection.
This is similar in feel to the earlier deal with Footnote, from whom you can buy online access to historic documents and photographs from the Archives.
Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein spins it this way:
Our initiative with CustomFlix Labs will reap major benefits for the public-at-large and for the National Archives. While the public can come to our College Park, MD research room to view films and even copy them at no charge, this new program will make our holdings much more accessible to millions of people who cannot travel to the Washington, DC area. CustomFlix Labs DVD on Demand will provide the National Archives with digital reference and preservation copies of the films that are sold on Amazon.com. This is an important contribution to our preservation program.
The Archivist fails to mention why it’s necessary for the US Government agency to make a commercial deal and charge the public to get these benefits.
Perhaps the Archives could take a lesson from the Library of Congress’ highly successful American Memory program for tips about how to make archival works available online without charging the public for them.
Or ask advice of the folks at the Internet Archives, who already have over 600 of these same vintage newsreels up and freely available.
See the NARA Press Release of 30 July 2007.
Added 3 August
Apparently American Historical Association blogger Andrew Britt thinks the deal is a good idea, too.
I’ve also just seen the Washington Post article on the subject.
Nina Gilden Seavey, an “Emmy-winning filmmaker and director of the Documentary Center at George Washington University” is quoted in that piece, noting the key issue with which the Archives is dealing:
Ultimately, the accessibility of the collections and the maintenance of the collections has become such a huge burden on the federal government, the question is how to provide some sort of self-sustaining mechanism for use of these collections.
I agree this is a burden. A burden however, that comes with the mission of the agency.
In the face of scarce resources, apparently the only option considered was commercializing the collection.
That’s my gripe here.