Carl Malamud, who has spent two decades cajoling the government into putting public data online for free, is confronting his latest institutional Goliath.
The Sebastopol activist has launched a new campaign targeting the Smithsonian Institution and its policy of charging licensing fees to use public images downloaded from its vast collection of historic American artifacts.
Unlike the Library of Congress and the National Archives, the Smithsonian is alone in charging the public to use images from its collections.
"I think that is illegal, and unconscionable," Malamud said. "Many, many more artists would be using this material, but it's all locked up."
Government agencies cannot claim copyright and charge licensing fees, he said.
The Smithsonian did not return calls seeking comment.
Malamud, who pestered the Securities and Exchange Commission into putting corporate filings online in the 1990s and has continued to roil government since, has added a uniquely Sonoma County twist in his public fight against the Smithsonian.
His campaign slogan: "What Would Luther Burbank Do?"
Luther Burbank, the famed Santa Rosa botanist who died in 1926, became world renowned for crossbreeding various plants to create whole new fruits, flowers and other plants that he distributed across the globe.
Malamud thinks Americans should have similarly free access to reproduce, alter and distribute public-domain images found in the Smithsonian's collection.