Challenging the Smithsonian
May 18, 2007 12:28 PM   Subscribe

The non-profit group,, are challenging the Smithsonian Institution by downloading all 6,288 (mostly) public domain photographs from the very restrictive Smithsonian Images site and reposting them to Flickr. [more: here, here] {via Ramage}
posted by peacay (25 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Hahah, so you can see a lot of these little blue images in this picture, but the zoomed in version was quite a suprise...
posted by delmoi at 12:34 PM on May 18, 2007

Nitcpick: the two newspaper columns linked above are the same article.
posted by NationalKato at 12:40 PM on May 18, 2007

whoops: 2nd link should have been: DCist.
posted by peacay at 12:43 PM on May 18, 2007

I hope they succeed in this. Public resources should be easy to access.
posted by NationalKato at 12:48 PM on May 18, 2007

posted by amberglow at 1:02 PM on May 18, 2007

I too am really happy to see someone taking justice into their own hands. That the Smithsonian would impose such draconian measures on images in the public domain really pisses me off. At first I was disappointed to see that they'd chosen Flickr as a site to post these images (a site I would never associate with freedom or justice in any way, not to mention the long list of other reasons I can't stand Flickr) but upon reading their letter you can also download the images in tarball format from their non-flickr ftp site, which makes a perfect distribution means.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:08 PM on May 18, 2007

Someone should put that tarball on
posted by ao4047 at 1:17 PM on May 18, 2007

Mod note: fixed the second link
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:19 PM on May 18, 2007

I'm disappointed that this even had to reach 'stunt' level. The Smithsonian struggles with funds and has very few points of revenue to supplement dwindling subsidies and donations. Shaming them publicly is counter-productive. It's not like they aren't already shamed by selling substandard tourist crap like cherry blossom magnets in the Sackler gallery just to make ends meet. The museums are still free, the programs and exhibits still engaging, and they let you take pictures of whatever you like.

They aren't compromising education by bogarting the hi-res files, just trying to keep their larger ideals of public access and preservation afloat by being more self-sufficient with funds.

Public Resource can't see the forest for the trees.
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:28 PM on May 18, 2007

(for the record, I concede that it's legally wrong and a bad judgement call, but halfway reasonable when you consider the bigger picture. An administrative complaint or quiet legal action would have been a classier response to a mistake on the part of a venerable supporter of history and the arts. They simply don't deserve the ire.)
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:36 PM on May 18, 2007

but the zoomed in version was quite a suprise...

Yeah, that guy's stance is way too wide. It's interesting to see how batting techniques have improved since then.

Or did you mean something else?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:36 PM on May 18, 2007

Note: This schedule reflects a materials fee only! Reproduction rights or rights for commercial products are subject to approval and may require additional fees.
posted by acro at 2:02 PM on May 18, 2007

The Smithsonian specifically encourages the use, without charge, of these images by students, teachers, and schools. They are available for downloading and use in reports and class work, as well as on class-related student and school web sites. Credit must be given to the photographer and the Smithsonian Institution.
(The low-res versions that is, I guess.)
posted by acro at 2:04 PM on May 18, 2007

Public Resource can't see the forest for the trees.

So true cowbellemoo. So true.

There's no future in copying the past (but it is so much easier than crearing your own new original content.)
posted by three blind mice at 2:40 PM on May 18, 2007

The idea that the Smithsonian should have to impose these "user fees" (or whatever they call them) is atrocious in the first place. It isn't the Smithsonian's fault, per se, it's the fault of extremely poor management and short-sighted monetization approaches.

The politicization of the Institute really began back during the 1995 controversy over the A-bomb exhibit, where veterans essentially objected to telling any part of the story outside of a narrow patriotic narrative, e.g. highlighting Hiroshima survivors' accounts. It accelerated with the appointment of Lawrence Small. Although Small raised more private money than any other of his ten predecessors, that's only because he was the first to be tasked with such a need. He was also compensated to questionable levels and raised eyebrows with his own business expense claims, finally resigning in March of this year.

Yeah, the Smithsonian "needs" the cash. But public domain images are not theirs to sell. Donate if you like, or better yet, tell your congressman to protect the Institute's funding.
posted by dhartung at 3:51 PM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Follow up: Controversial CEO to Leave Smithsonian Business Ventures
"Gary M. Beer, the founding chief executive of the Smithsonian's business unit and architect of a controversial deal with Showtime Networks Inc., has announced plans to leave amid internal and congressional inquiries into his management, expense account and promotions of a female subordinate."

posted by acro at 5:10 PM on May 18, 2007

Besides the fledgling television channel, SBV is made up of several business units: Magazines; Retail (museum stores, concessions, movie theaters); Catalogues; Licensing; Publishing; and Travel (Smithsonian Journeys). The financial performance of SBV had been criticized in a report issued in January by (pdf) the Smithsonian’s Inspector General.
posted by acro at 5:12 PM on May 18, 2007

Smithsonian Business Ventures?
posted by rolypolyman at 5:59 PM on May 18, 2007

are there any other images with huge versions like that very first "baseball batting" or are all the rest of them small? i was hoping the caricatures a few pages in would get big but no dice.
posted by radiosig at 7:10 PM on May 18, 2007

-- Revenue 2005-- $172 m. (source: pdf link)
posted by acro at 7:13 PM on May 18, 2007

it looks like there's at least one other (huge .jpg)
posted by radiosig at 7:16 PM on May 18, 2007

They have a magazine (quite good) and I don't begrudge them the effort to National-Geograph-isize to raise money.

In a perfect world, they'd have unlimited resources and wouldn't have to shill their good name as a research institution to stay in business. And no one there would have to think "what can I sell around here to finance xyz..."

I'm glad the management is shaking up. The system works?

I say we find a national distributer for space ice cream and tack on another 5 stories to each museum...
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:18 PM on May 18, 2007

Yeah, that guy's stance is way too wide. It's interesting to see how batting techniques have improved since then.

Or did you mean something else?

I guess he meant the guys didn't shave back then.
posted by DreamerFi at 10:01 PM on May 18, 2007

A couple more things on the Smithsonian/flickr/ situation but it's more in the way of commentary than any definitive change in circumstances..
--Library Law blog (nb. comments)
I still haven't heard of any official response from the Smithsonian as yet. I hope they sue - I think it's time for Bridgeman v Corel to get beyond the lower courts and there is probably a lot of copyright and public domain issues here that would do well to receive some judicial opinion. I may of course reverse this opinion if I don't like what they ultimately say however.
posted by peacay at 9:27 AM on May 25, 2007

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