On the face of it, this is pretty appalling. Especially when you use words like “privatize” and “locked up” to describe the deal. I’m sympathetic. My mind immediately jumped to the traffic.com debacle, when the Department of Transportation basically paid a contractor millions of dollars to build a system to collect traffic data, and had to turn around and pay that contractor again for the data it collected.
But then I read the documents, and realized that it’s more complicated than the headline suggests.
This material is almost impossible to get in its current form: 300,000 hours of video, 11,000 hours of film, 1.5 million hours of audio, and 700,000 images that are basically locked in a closet. The DOD wants to make the material accessible to themselves through an internal portal and to the public, who would be charged a fee for fulfillment. They want to do this without spending any extra money.
So in exchange for scanning, cataloging, and making the assets available through the DOD and public-facing portal at http://defenseimagery.mil/, T3 gets to charge the public money for downloads. That privilege lasts 10 years, after which they lose exclusivity. The solution was recommended by the National Archive and Records Administration, whose job it is to worry about problems like this. The works themselves remain in the public domain, and the government gets all the digitized assets after the contract is over.
I’m actually fine with this arrangement. It’s not so different than the bargain that allows Google to digitize all those library books. If the notion of a company making money doing this work offends us, we should ask ourselves why an organization like the Prelinger Archives or other non-profit archiving outfit didn’t bid on the work. If we object to the need for DIMOC to hand over these rights at all, we should give DIMOC enough money to pay for digitization services up-front, so we wouldn’t need a contract like this in the first place.
“DIMOC Digitization and Storage Solicitation HQ0029-2297-0001-000” for you procurement nerds. ↩