Sam Smith at Undernews quotes an Associated Press story: "A nonprofit group is challenging the copyrights and restrictions on images being sold by the Smithsonian. But instead of going to court, the group downloaded all 6,288 photos online and posted them Wednesday night on the free Internet site," flickr.com. The group is Public.Resource.org, and Carl Malamud is its cofounder and spokesperson. The AP reports, "Most images the Smithsonian is selling, including photos of artifacts and historic figures, are not protected by copyright, Malamud said. But the Smithsonian site carries copyright notices and other warnings that would discourage most people from using historic images that should be publicly available, he said.
Public.Resource.org asked Yale law prof Yochai Benkler about the agency's dramatic claim that it can restrict reuse of the images even in the absence of copyright. Benkler's opinion: "Nonsense on stilts." I expect he's right, but you might want to check out your tax-paid-for history here before the privatizers find a way to reappropriate it.