by Elliot Harmon, Electronic Frontier Foundation
The news of iconic children’s television show Sesame Street’s new arrangement with the HBO MAX streaming service has sent ripples around the Internet. Starting this year, episodes of “Sesame Street” will debut on HBO and on the HBO MAX service, with new episodes being made available to PBS “at some point.” Parents Television Council’s Tim Winter recently told New York Times that “HBO is holding hostage underprivileged families” who can no longer afford to watch new Sesame Street episodes.
The move is particularly galling because the show is partially paid for with public funding. Let’s imagine an alternative: what if “Sesame Street” were open access? What if the show’s funding had come with a requirement that it be made available to the public?
Open access advocacy is about showing decisionmakers a world they hadn’t thought possible, where certain resources are available to anyone regardless of economic means. It might have been unthinkable a decade ago that outputs from government-funded research could be made available to the public rather than locked down in expensive journals. But in 2013, the White House ordered all government agencies that fund research to implement policies ensuring that that research is shared with the public for free, no less than a year after publication in a journal. Back then, the idea of going beyond the one-year embargo period was still unthinkable for some, but in the following years, a dozen major foundations would implement policies requiring that the research they fund be made available to the public on day one and published under licenses that allow anyone to share and reuse it.
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