The Smithsonian has cut a deal with Showtime allowing them the right of first-refusal for works created using Smithsonian archival material. This means that if a filmmaker uses materials owned by the Smithsonian in his/her film, then Showtime on demand is given dibs on airing it first, unless they choose not to. Many filmmakers and lawyers are now wondering what it means to be a public trust, especially a tax-funded one, if the organization has the ability to sign this kind of exclusive deal with a private company for the use of its vast collections. Many thorny issues have been brought to light by the arrangement along with various misconceptions and it has become the subject of much online chatter.
Daily Kos Blog article