The AP reports on an interesting copyright dispute involving the Smithsonian Institution. The nonprofit Public.Resource.Org thinks the copyright language on the Smithsonian Images web site (e.g., "even in the absence of copyright, Smithsonian still reserves all rights to image use") is too restrictive and, in response, has apparently downloaded all 6,288 images from the site and posted them for all to use for free on flickr.com.
Lawprof Deven Desai says "the issue is whether the holder of the physical thing (here a picture) can impose extra limits on the use of that thing." He says "the question becomes complicated rather fast," but suggests that "there may be a distinction between a public entity (which ... the Smithsonian is) and a private entity’s ability to use contract in this way."
Cornell's Peter Hirtle wishes the Smithsonian didn't try to assert control over its images, but says "everything I have read suggests that what the Smithsonian tried to do is legal."