20 November 2006

Free Culture, Liberation Technology, and Public Pathways Enrich History on the Web.

The readings for this week were all very good. In my opinion, free access to information is the best route for the development and success of history on the net. I would like first to refer to Rozenzweig's article that brought out many emotions associated with my experiences in the museum world.

As the lead contracting officer representative for the 10 million dollar exhibit fabrication contract for the now open (10 Nov 2006) National Museum of the Marine Corps, the issues concerning Marine Corps and other related images selected for the exhibits brought out the evil surrounding Corbis and Getty. The exhibit designers were good people, but they lacked entirely the concept of conducting historical research outside the confines of the Internet. Despite their "Marine Corps consultant" who remains one of the leading historians in the field, his leadership did not surpass historical content. As a result, these armchair historians surfed the World Wide Web and found a wealth of resources at their fingertips. My guess is that they considered the task relatively easy and found all kinds of images that were then written into the 100% exhibits plan. The images that were readily accessible online gave them a false sense of availability. So, as the years seemed to pass by very quickly and the opening of the museum was less than twelve months away, it became time to provide the images to the exhibits fabrication contractor. Unfortunately, the images were behind a gate which only good money could buy. Did I mention that many of the images were official Marine Corps photographs? As crazy as it sounds, some government images could not be located in the National Archives and a hefty fee was paid for the license. Forget about perpetuity; we are talking about a one-time user fee not to exceed X number of years with no license for the use in brochures or other media outlets. OK- the guy behind Corbis is a genius- we all know that now.

I think Rosenzweig makes the best argument that access to all sources should be free, across the board. Proven alternative methods for raising the badly needed "existential" revenues are applied with success, such as the Open Book project at the National Academy Press (NAP). By putting most of their holdings online for free has raised sales. Michael Jensen, of NAP, said "free browsing, easy access, and researcher-friendly publication first, and sales second" is "much more in keeping with the role of a non-commercial publisher" and for doing "the most good for society as possible within the constraints of our money."

While Lawrence Lessig's refrain on the demise of creativity and innovation may not seem apropos to the situation with Corbis, I believe the control and restriction of information, especially in order to make money, is in fact our loss and less a free society. Rosenzweig hit the nail on the head when he said "'open sources' should be the slogan of academic and popular historians. Academics and enthusiasts created the web; we should not quickly or quietly cede it to giant corporations."