Source Materials

FOIA Reference

Smithsonian Announcement

New York Times Article

Center for American Progress

Smithsonian Networks

Time For Sunshine?

The Smithsonian Institution recently entered into a new business venture with Showtime Networks, Inc. that has been causing a great deal of controversy. Noted documentarian Ken Burns was quoted in the New York Times as saying this arrangement would have "prohibited him from making some of his recent works."

The details of this agreement are somewahat murky. We do know that the arrangement gives the new joint venture a "right of first refusal" on key parts of the Smithsonian archives, but Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said the details of the contract were confidential.

The Smithsonian Institution represents our national heritage. While it is clear that funding for the Institution is not adequate and the U.S. Congress needs to step up to the plate to adequately fund this vital national resource, this is no excuse for a public corporation created by the U.S. Congress to promote "the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men" to auction off their archives to the highest bidder.

Public knowledge requires public disclosure. The Smithsonian Institution should disclose the terms of their contract so that an informed public debate over the merits can take place. While the Smithsonian claims it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act under the decision in Dong v. Smithsonian Institution (125 F.3d 877), they have agreed to abide by the "intent and spirit" of the act. A FOIA request has thus been submitted asking that the terms of the deal with Showtime be made available for the public to see.

Further Reading: FOIA Request to the Office of the General Counsel