Smithsonian selling right-of-first-refusal to Showtime
April 4, 2006 8:51 AM   Subscribe

World Famous publicly founded Smithsonian Institution recently sold a right-of-first-refusal on their collections to Showtime Networks, allegedly because the Smithsonian badly needed cash for urgent works (previous Mefi thread). Some poster on other blogs notes that if the WIPO Broadcasting Treaty (links to second draft) will be implemented that could grant Showtime a broadcast right over the documentaries produced with Smithsonian materials ; this right would be similar yet separated from copyright , but with additional and increasingly chilling effects [partially via BoingBoing]
posted by elpapacito (15 comments total)
Things like this hurt my brain. Seriously. Trying to figure these crazy copyright/other content law issues makes my brain want to jump out of my head and recline by a pool somewhere.
posted by antifuse at 9:10 AM on April 4, 2006

There's also an entrance fee proposal being tossed around. Guess they're hurting for funds.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:33 AM on April 4, 2006

Fuck Sony... er, I mean SmithSONYian.
posted by Hanover Phist at 9:55 AM on April 4, 2006

This is broken.
posted by musicinmybrain at 10:09 AM on April 4, 2006

WIPO is the devil.
posted by insomnus at 10:10 AM on April 4, 2006

Its not just publicly founded. It is an arm of the U.S. Government. Its employees are general schedule employees, its buildings are owned by the government. It is the U.S. government.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:19 AM on April 4, 2006

Speaking of this hurting our brains, from reading the description of WIPO on the EFF page, I wonder if the treaty is written broadly enough that human memory would actually qualify as a "fixation" of a broadcast. Not so significant now, but imagine if at some point we develop the (admittedly scifi-esque) technology to selectively erase memories... you might have to pay ESPN a licensing fee to be able to remember the game after watching it, or even just to remember the final score.

Now that's what I call Orwellian.
posted by XMLicious at 10:22 AM on April 4, 2006

Is there a recommended remedy? I'm perfectly willing to call my Congressperson. I just need to know what to ask for, if anything, beyond don't sell the rights to our history to a private company.
posted by stevis at 11:04 AM on April 4, 2006

Its not just publicly founded. It is an arm of the U.S. Government. Its employees are general schedule employees, its buildings are owned by the government. It is the U.S. government.

If that is the case, then isn't it true that all its works are public domain to US citizens? How could they possibly sell the rights?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:59 AM on April 4, 2006

Aren't we looking at the birth of the Smithsonian Channel, here? As sellout as this story sounds, that'd be one less network to skip past in my cable lineup.
posted by steef at 12:31 PM on April 4, 2006

I'm not a lawyer, but I deal with media contracts that deal with "right of first refusal" and I'm pretty sure that Encarta's definition is incorrect. Their definition reads more like a "right of first offer."

If Company A has the right of first refusal, and Company B wishes to entertain offers from other parties, Company A is contractually entitled to match the offer of all other bids in order to retain the relationship with Company B.

Right of first offer means that Company B would have to go to Company A first, and then if Company A refused, other companies could then bid.
posted by jennak at 12:38 PM on April 4, 2006

First Right of Refusal is used against musicians and directors all the time. Dreamworks has it with Spielburg, his own studio turned him down for Memoirs of a Geisha. They also did it very publicly in the hopes that it would poison the well with other studios and get Steve focused on more quality movies like Jurassic Park IV and Transformers. Fortunately his bitch slap in Variety wasn't enough to discourage Columbia from picking up the bill.

With musicians records companies can exercise that Right in order to sit on an album if the executives think they have a different promising act with a 'similar sound'. Bury the first album with first right of refusal so as not to 'confuse the market'.

Same can happen here, if Showtime has a project in the works and an independent director comes along with a similar idea or theme that might damage profits of a commercial project, the First Right of Refusal can effectively be used to string this guy along and sandbag the project.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:02 PM on April 4, 2006

I visited Washington as a kid and my folks bought smithsonian institute patches that they subsequently used to patch the knees on my jeans. None of my schoolmates had ever heard of the Smithsonian so all they saw was the word institute.

As a result they all thought I spent my summer in a psych institution like a bad guy in a batman cartoon. I never knew until about 15 years later.

The rocket monkey and the spirit of st. louis were my big takeways from that visit. I made a balsa wood spirit of st. louis that crashed and shattered in the same playground where my classmates watched my post psychiatric incarceration crazy recess activities. Sadly for me ,and fortunately for the simian, I never did get to put a monkey in a rocket.
posted by srboisvert at 1:34 PM on April 4, 2006

What on earth makes them think this is a better idea than charging admission if they need to raise cash?
posted by languagehat at 2:16 PM on April 4, 2006

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