Carl Malamud sez, "215 people have
signed a letter to Secretary Small of the Smithsonian Institution expressing their grave concern over the joint venture with Showtime. Ken Burns will be joining me for a public briefing tomorrow (Tuesday, 4/18) to discuss the issues."
At issue is the publicly funded Smithsonian's plan to give the commercial Showtime network the exclusive first-refusal right to the documentary footage in its film archive, a move that would turn Showtime into the sole supplier of documentaries made using the public's video that has been entrusted to the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian Institution is not merely a business venture. It is a publicly chartered guardian
of our national heritage, created by the U.S. Congress "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." In your FY2005 Annual Report, you noted that the Institution receives 75%
of its revenue from federal appropriations, government grants, and government contracts. The
Institution is governed by a Board of Regents appointed from all three branches of our government. The Smithsonian Institution is a public trust in the truest sense of the term.
The Institution, as a public trust, operates as custodian of our shared heritage. As Secretary
Joseph Henry stated in his first annual report in 1847 in considering the role of the Institution in
formally accepting the bequest of James Smithson: "The bequest is for the benefit of mankind.
The Government of the United States is merely a trustee."