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Amazon and CustomFlix to sell NARA films

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has a new agreement with Amazon.com to reproduce and sell copies of thousands of historic films from NARA’s collections. Unlike the controversial deal that the Smithsonian made with Showtime, which gave Showtime “semiexclusive” rights to Smithsonian content, the NARA deal with Amazon is “non-exclusive.” NARA will get a digitized “preservation copy” of content that CustomFlix processes.

This is surely a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we’ll have better access to more content for more people and NARA gets some digital conversion done.

On the other hand, It is not yet clear which content will be made more accessible and which will not. Almost certainly, we’ll see a preference for that which has commercial value rather than scholarly value. In addition, “access” will be for a fee and not free and, presumably, the fees will not be based on “cost recovery” but on profit.

Nina Gilden Seavey, an Emmy-winning filmmaker and director of the Documentary Center at George Washington University notes the reason for this kind of outsourcing and commercialization.

“Ultimately, the accessibility of the collections and the maintenance of the collections has become such a huge burden on the federal government, the question is how to provide some sort of self-sustaining mechanism for use of these collections.”

This deal provides one vision of how to provide accessibility and maintenance. Another path would have the government and libraries taking responsibility to preserve such content and make it freely available.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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