Watch America's public domain video treasures, rescue the public domain from paywalls

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

Did you know you can watch Richard Nixon explain why he's innocent, see the Hindenburg, or view an official bio of General George S. ("Georgie") Patton? All these videos have been buried in a vault.

I'll be testifying December 16 before the House Oversight Committee on the topic (take a deep breath) "History Museum or Records Access Agency? Defining and Fulfilling the Mission of the National Archives and Records Administration." The first panel will feature the new Archivist, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, and the Librarian of Congress. I'm on the second panel of citizens.

You can help me prepare my testimony by watching videos on YouTube or the Internet Archive. If you want to watch videos from the National Archives today, they try to talk you into buying a DVD from the official government partner, Amazon.Com. The government web site has a 320×240 2 minute preview, using an old Microsoft codec, and all the search results encourage you to purchase from "our partner, Amazon.Com."

I've got nothing against Amazon selling this stuff. It is public domain, after all. But, I do have a real problem when the government deliberately cripples itself by not making video available to all. To demonstrate to the Congress that if we liberated this wonderful content people would really care, I forked over $251 for 20 DVDs and posted them on-line.

I'll be counting the number of views and reporting that information in my testimony. Help me show Congress we care about history:

Watch videos on the Internet Archive.

Watch videos on YouTube.

Knock yourself out, view one, view them all … help me make the case that the National Archives should be all about access and preservation and that exclusive deals that bottle up the public domain are just not a good idea.

My friend Paula LeDieu at the British Film Institute has a great riff on these commercialization efforts. We — the taxpayers — were the angel and Series A investors in this video, and our ROI is measured by how much of the video we get to see and use, and what new things get made with it. The argument that locking up the video and selling it to us allows for the production of more video basically says that a new investor — the commercial partners of the government archives — should be able to dilute our interest down to zero by contributing a paltry few new dollars to the project. That is, our return on investment should be obliterated so that a latecomer can clean up. If this was a corporation, we'd have a shareholder lawsuit — and we'd probably fire the board of directors and the CEO.

National Archives and Record Administration

(Thanks, Carl!)