US Department of Defense's public domain archive to be privatized, locked up for ten years

Archivist Rick Prelinger sez, "The U.S. Department of Defense has entered into a contract with T3 Media to get its gigantic still and moving image collection digitized at no cost to the government. In exchange, T3 Media will become the exclusive public outlet for millions of images and videos for ten years. Unlike most other developed nations, the U.S. Government does not claim copyright on video, film, photographs and other media produced by its workers. The immense number of works in the U.S. public domain have enabled countless researchers, makers and citizens to read, view and make many new works. True, those wishing to use modern military materials (1940s-present) in DoD's archives often need to negotiate their release with military public affairs, but these materials have traditionally been available for just the cost of duplication. This is soon to change."

In exchange for covering a share of digitizing and hosting costs (the government will pick up an unspecified share of costs as well), T3 Media will provide access to the government and receive a 10-year exclusive license to charge for public access to these public domain materials.

I contacted T3Media's communications manager who could only tell me that "the material will be available for licensing." Costs, procedures and restrictions are still undecided or undisclosed. T3 will possess the highest-quality digital copies of these materials and there is no guarantee that DoD will offer them to the public online when the 10-year window expires. It's therefore hard to know whether this contract will serve the public interest.

While I have not yet seen the contract, the project Statement of Objectives offers additional information and here's T3Media's release.

DOD wants you ... to browse its visual library (Thanks, Rick!)

Notable Replies

  1. This is a shame. A company that had no hand in producing the pictures will now get to profit off of them for ten years. Shouldn't this be something the Library of Congress would handle?

  2. Locking up public domain material.

    Locking. Public Domain.

    ......Well. I'd like to say I'm surprised but all i can muster is resigned disappointment.

  3. The government should just get the internet archive to digitize this stuff. I'm sure they'd love to digitize this stuff without removing it's publit domain status. And a generous public donation wouldn't hurt.

  4. I somehow doubt the U.S. Department of Defense is really feeling this much of a budget crunch.

  5. bwv812 says:

    Maybe for the same reason that the government couldn't get the health exchange websites up and running before they went live (and the same reason you don't capitalize)? Technology is one thing the government doesn't do very well, even in the places they do a lot of it: heck, the fact that Snowden was a contractor ought to tell you something about how well equipped even highly-funded departments on priority projects are.

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