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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

Government funded web sites
copyright issues?

 7:09 pm on Jun 9, 2002 (gmt 0)

The US Government publishes quite a bit of content that is of interest to my site visitors. This content comes from several different depts and organizations. Included with these are independently run, but federally funded organizations (either direct funding or grant monies). I've recently taken to publishing the content of several of these sources (with full credit and links back to the sources).

Now in thinking about this a little more - I already own this content don't I (we!?)? How does it work when the US Government (funded by our tax dollars) publishes documents for public consumption? I know they charge fees for books and other hardcopy items but I believe this is for the cost of printing and publication. Does anyone have some insight to offer on this?


The Contractor

 8:18 pm on Jun 9, 2002 (gmt 0)


<<Now in thinking about this a little more - I already own this content don't I (we!?)?>>

I must admit that within the past month I too have harvested some graphics from some State Government pages. I also provide a link back to each States official website. I have never harvested/hijacked material from a site before, but the justification that I helped pay for these sites worked for me too :)


 2:28 am on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

I don't think I have ever heard of the US goverment sueing someone over copyright. I don't think they can. It is everyones property.

The Contractor

 2:36 am on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)


That puts my mind at ease. I really did not want to do it but I needed a couple of graphics that represented each State ;)


 9:30 am on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

What if the Gov had subcontracted the work? Could the web developer at the other end have intellectual property rights on the graphics?



 2:23 pm on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

>had subcontracted the work?

Shanz has a good point, I know of one US military site which places its normally public domain content on the web using an intermediary as publisher. In this case, the publisher has marked the web material as copyrighted.


 2:35 pm on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

It is everyones property.

Hmmm... There's this hot State Police Camaro I've been seeing on the parkway lately. I'd love to have that car for my commute. Since it's government property, that technically means it's mine, and free for the taking, right?

brotherhood of LAN

 2:46 pm on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

I *hope* that it would be everyones property, but since the law is an ass, and governments are governments, somehow I doubt it :(

I can understand the thinking behind it being everyones property and that is the way I would hope it is.

I'm taking a blind guess that it would not be OK and the rules will vary from country to country


 2:55 pm on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

I *hope* that it would be everyones property

My Camaro? Cool! :)

Well, I can relate one personal experience, for what it's worth. My company developed and maintains a website for a New York State "council of government" -- a quasi-governmental organization, funded entirely by tax dollars. A few months after the site went online, the Council's staff contacted us because they'd found a site that had copied much of the content and they wanted to know if we had any connection to it. We did not; it was a local informational site operated by an ISP. The council contacted the company and demanded that they remove the "copyrighted" material. They suggested instead that the company provide a link to the Council's site.

What that tells me is that at the very least different bodies may take different approaches to the question. The most responsible approach is probably to contact the webmaster of the site you want to take content from, and ask them to explain their policy.


 2:59 pm on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think you always need to check, many times the terms are online.

See [nix.nasa.gov...] for a good example


 3:08 pm on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

Here is a quote from the library of congress which should clarify things:

"Publications Incorporating U. S. Government Works
Works by the U. S. Government are not eligible for U. S. copyright protection. For works published on and after March 1, 1989, the previous notice requirement for works consisting primarily of one or more U. S. Government works has been eliminated. However, use of a notice on such a work will defeat a claim of innocent infringement as previously described provided the notice also includes a statement that identifies either those portions of the work in which copyright is claimed or those portions that constitute U. S. Government material.

Example: 2000 Jane Brown. Copyright claimed in Chapters 7-10, exclusive of U. S. Government maps

Copies of works published before March 1, 1989, that consist primarily of one or more works of the U. S. Government should have a notice and the identifying statement."


THe point is US government stuff is not copyrighted, but you cannot claim copyright if you use it. Your tax dollars pay for this stuff, so it is by definition public domain.

Richard Lowe


 3:54 pm on Jun 10, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thankyou Rich!

That's what I thought - thanks for the resource too.


 7:10 am on Jun 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

Great resource and post Richlowe! Thanks! I've been looking for that exact type of information.


 3:41 am on Jun 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thinking as a Tax Paying American..

We pay them, they create, who owns the content that we love to use?

he he ;)



 3:17 am on Jun 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

interesting topic!
i just checked what the copyright rules are for uk government documents. everything is copyright but it looks like we are free to use it so long as we use it properly and accredit it to the crown.

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