The American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York is an incredible museum and resource. It "is the only institution in the United States dedicated exclusively to the study of film, television, and digital media, and to examining their impact on American culture and society." In addition to the permanent collection of over 100,000 moving image artifacts, it has some fantastic temporary exhibits currently, such as a collection of Tim Burton's drawings from 12 of his movies. There is also an ongoing exhibit on videogames. In fact, admission to the museum provides you three tokens to play classic games including: Asteroids (1979), Frogger (1981), Ms. Pac-Man (1982), Space Invaders (1979), and Tron (1982). Additionally, the online exhibit Computer Space lets you download an emulator and the actual ROM for many of the games so that you can play them on your PC at home. You can download the original games! How cool is that?
Answer: very. Unfortunately, downloading the content from AMMI's latest exhibit is prohibited. Which is really a shame, because while the exhibit is excellent (really, really excellent), making the content freely downloadable could be very useful for our democracy. It's that important. Read on...
The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004 is
an innovative online exhibition presenting more than 250 television commercials from every presidential campaign year since 1952. Visitors to the Museums Website can watch nearly four hours of TV commercials. The site includes a searchable database and features commentary, historical background, election results, and navigation organized by both year and theme.
This exhibit is really well-organized. Every commercial has a transcript. Brief commentary sets the commercials into context. You can look at commercials by type (Backfire, Biographical, Children, Commander in Chief, Documentary, Fear, and Real People) or by issue (Civil Rights, Corruption, Cost of Living, Taxes, War, and Welfare). There is also a section on campaigning via the Internet.
Great stuff. But, as I watched some of the commercials (Real and Windows Media) I couldn't help but think of the possibilities of being able to remix and annotate them. I imagined what many of the amateur commercial creators who participated in MoveOn.org's Bush in 30 Seconds contest could do with the material. Shouldn't the people be permitted to use these materials to make their own campaign commercials?
So, I tried to download the commercials, but couldn't do it without violating the DMCA. So I contacted AMMI and asked them about this and they were kind enough to answer.
David Schwartz, the Museums Chief Curator of Film and co-curator of the exhibit had this to say,
Some of the permission obtained to exhibit this material was contingent on the Museum's assurance that the material would not be downloadable, and would not be edited.
What are the permission-granters afraid of? Why don't they want the people to have this material? Apparently is is tolerable to present these works in the safe, reserved arms of a museum exhibit, but heaven forbid that these works actually become part of the living, breathing fabric of democracy.
Unbelievable sums of money have been and will be spent on television campaign commercials. They are the heart and soul of the modern campaign. They are the main reason campaign contributions play such an important role in our democracy. Until now, the ability to create campaign commercials has been the preserve of highly paid election consultants and strictly controlled by the candidates and parties themselves. However, the internet and computing revolutions are changing this. As the MoveOn contest proved, amateurs are perfectly capable of creating compelling campaign advertising. Why shouldn't they have the chance? Why shouldn't these materials be free to quote from? Isn't this what democracy and free speech is about? Of course, it may be that the parties and candidates don't really believe in free speech.
But what about the copyright issues? David Schwartz again,
Most of the commercials were obtained from various presidential libraries, and are in the public domain. In some cases, the ads were provided by ad agencies and by campaign offices (including the DNC and RNC), and these entities retain the copyright. Ronald Reagan is the only president included in the exhibition who obtained copyright ownership of his ads. We obtained permission from his office for use of the ads.
For the works in the public domain there is clearly no problem. In fact, I'm not sure why any of these commercials are copyrighted anyway. After all, I seem to recall that tax dollars paid for at least a portion of many of those ads. And even if there is copyright, the holders of those copyrights should be asked why they won't permit licensing under one of the Creative Commons
This is a great exhibit. It should be greater.