Copyright Compendium

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Chapter 900
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Chapter 2100
Chapter 2200
Chapter 2300
Chapter 2400

313.6 (C) (1) U.S. Government Works

 

313.6 (C) Government Works 313.6 (C) (1) U.S. Government Works

 

Copyright protection under the Copyright Act is not available for “any work of the United States Government,” regardless of whether it is published or unpublished. 17 U.S.C. § 105; see also H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 58 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5672.

 

“[T]he bar on copyright protection for federal works . . . applies to works created by all federal ‘officer[s] or employee[s],’ without regard for the nature of their position or scope of their authority.” Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc., 140 S. Ct. 1498, 1509-10 (2020). This includes works created by the President; Congress; the federal judiciary; federal departments, agencies, boards, bureaus, or commissions; or any other officer or employee of the U.S. federal government while acting within the course of his or her official duties. It also includes works prepared by an officer or employee of the government of the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or the organized territories under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

 

If an applicant states that the U.S. government or any of its agencies, officers, or employees created the work while acting within the scope of their employment, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant and may refuse registration, even if the claimant is a nongovernmental entity.

 

There are several exceptions to these rules:

 

• Although works prepared by officers or employees of the U.S. government within the scope of their employment are not copyrightable, the federal government may receive and hold “copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.” 17 U.S.C. § 105. For example, a U.S. government agency may register a website created by a government contractor, provided that the contractor did not create the website for the agency as a work made for hire and provided that the contractor transferred the copyright in that work to that agency.

 

• Works prepared by officers or employees of the U.S. Postal Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Public Broadcasting Services, or National Public Radio are not considered works of the U.S. government. See H.R. Rep. No. 94-1476, at 60 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5674 (expressly exempting the U.S. Postal Service).

 

• Works prepared by officers or employees of the Smithsonian Institution are not considered works of the U.S. government if the author-employee was paid from the Smithsonian trust fund.

 

• Literary works prepared for publication in a scholarly press or journal by civilian faculty members of the National Defense University, United States Military

 

Academy, Army War College, United States Army Command and General Staff College, United States Naval Academy, Naval War College, Naval Post Graduate School, Marine Corps University, United States Air Force Academy, Air University, Defense Language Institute, or United States Coast Guard Academy are not considered U.S. government works. 17 U.S.C. § 105 (B), (C) [sic].

 

• The U.S. Secretary of Commerce may secure copyright for a limited term not to exceed five years in any standard reference data prepared or disseminated by the National Technical Information Service. See 15 U.S.C. § 290e; H.R. Rep. No. 94-1476, at 59-60 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5673.

 

• A work prepared by an officer or employee of the U.S. government may be registered if the work was prepared at that person’s own volition and outside his or her official duties, even if the subject matter focuses on the author’s work for the government. See H.R. REP. NO. 94-1476, at 58 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. at 5671.