US federal government publications (including websites) are subject to the law stating that any work created by a federal government employee in the course of their work for the government is public domain.

US law[edit | edit source]

US law on this matter derives from Title 17 USC §105, Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works: "Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise." Such works are defined in 17 U.S.C. § 101 - Definitions: "A "work of the United States Government" is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person's official duties." Thus, only works solely created by US Federal Government employees, in the course of that employment, are free of copyright.

Caution needed[edit | edit source]

Please take appropriate care - by placing the content on Appropedia you are taking responsibility for claiming that the content is public domain.

Note that public domain may not apply when:

  • Work has been performed for the government by another party. In these cases (as with PubMed and other sites containing journal extracts) the site should have a statement making this clear.
  • Copyright has been assigned to the U.S. federal government by others.
  • The work is simply reproduced by the US federal government site, as "fair use" or by permission, but the copyright is actually owned by others.

Confirming public domain status[edit | edit source]

Usually a federal website will have a link at the bottom saying Website Policies which confirms that the content is public domain. If you have trouble finding it, you could Google for public-domain OR permission where is the US federal government site you are searching.

When there is no such statement, consider the following principles before treating the content as public domain:

  • Are you certain you are looking at a US federal site? The public domain law does not apply to state or local governments, nor to most non-US governments.
  • Is there anything to indicate that the work was not created solely by US federal government employees?
    • Is it a journal extract?
    • Is it work (e.g. a report) credited to an external body? (E.g. corporation, laboratory - in which case it depends whether the laboratory is actually operated by the federal government.)
  • Have you searched for a copyright notice on the page and on the site, and not found it in the usual places?

You may wish to contact the website/department to confirm that the content is indeed public domain.

If you are satisfied that the work is public domain, but cannot find a clear statement to that effect, this page's URL may be used as the statement in the {{PD}} template (when using public domain content on Appropedia):

Federally funded institutes[edit | edit source]

Many images (as well as artifacts) in the Smithsonian collection have further copyright limitations attached to them. The fact that the Smithsonian receives partial funding from the federal government only affects whether images taken by Smithsonian employees are technically protected by copyright.[1] This seems to suggest that there are images which are not taken by federally funded employees, and retain copyright, thus this is not a reliable source for PD images, without checking further.

The copyright notice goes on to say that "even in the absence of copyright, Smithsonian still reserves all rights to image use". This looks like a restriction, but this makes no sense if there is no copyright. If it is interpreted to simply mean that "we are still allowed to use the image" then that is accurate, but it's not necessary for them to say so. Note that there have been controversies[2] over the Smithsonian's alleged restriction of public domain images.

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  1. Rules For Using Smithsonian Image File
  2. e.g. this refuting the Smithsonian's restriction of the use of certain images.

External links[edit | edit source]

FA info icon.svg Angle down icon.svg Page data
Authors Chris Watkins
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Language English (en)
Translations Japanese
Related 1 subpages, 14 pages link here
Aliases US federal government websites and public domain
Impact 2,179 page views
Created January 8, 2008 by Chris Watkins
Modified June 9, 2023 by Felipe Schenone