News

NY State Senate Goes CC

Fred Benenson, June 29th, 2009

If you’re reading the Creative Commons blog, chances are you’re aware of the fact that the United States federal government is not entitled to copyright protection for their works. If you didn’t know this, check out the Wikipedia article on the subject, or some of our past blog posts on the subject. This means that federal works are essentially in the public domain.

What you may not know is that works of American states, in contrast to works of the federal government, are actually entitled to copyright protection under U.S. law. This creates the very awkward consequence of states automatically holding copyright in the very state laws, rules and court decisions that bind their citizens, not to mention other types of content created by its employees who are paid from public coffers filled in part by their taxpayers. CC is not alone (check out legendary archivist Carl Malamud and his public.resource.org project for more info) in believing that all such works should belong to the public and reside in the public domain.

Needless to say, we think this is an enormous opportunity for proper application of our legal tools to free up state works.

This is why its exciting to see the New York State Senate adopt a Creative Commons License for the content on their website. The photos and text of NYSenate.gov are now available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license, and 3rd party content, such as comments and user submitted photos are available under our Attribution license. Furthermore, the Senate has used our CC+ protocol to allow all other uses (even commercial ones and non-attribution ones) of the content so long as it is not for political fund raising purposes. In other words, if you’re not doing political fund raising you’re allowed to do whatever you want with the content.

While this is a somewhat novel approach to using our licenses, and indeed grants citizens rights to works they don’t currently have, it is only the first step. In the future, CC would love to see more states pushing their work into the public domain (and their policies into synchronicity with those of the federal government), for example by using our public domain waiver, CC0.

If you know of a state using CC licenses, add it to our wiki page on government uses of CC, or just let us know.

2 Responses to “NY State Senate Goes CC”

  1. Bonnie Klein says:

    Re: Federal Government & Copyright. The CC0 license does not address significant differences between works in the public domain and works of the federal government.

    U.S. Government Works are excluded by law from copyright protection immediately at the time of creation (Title 17 USC, Sec 105). Their status is not dependent on the date of creation or publication or when the author died (x factor) or amendments to law that changed the equations. Further, Title 17 USC Sec 403, provides incentives for attribution. Also in accordance with Berne, US Government Works may enjoy copyright protection in signatory countries that copyright their government works.

    Title 17 USC §105 has a total of 37 words in one sentence with two clauses. The first clause states: “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government.” The key to understanding the scope and limits of this provision is the definition found near the end of 17 USC § 101 which narrows government works to those “prepared BY an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties.” In other words, only government works created by federal government employees on the job are not subject to copyright protection.

    The misconception that all federal government publications are not copyrighted is rooted in the 1909 Copyright Act which provided: “No copyright shall subsist in any publication of the U.S. Government or any reprint in whole or in part thereof.” The 1976 revision of the 1909 law substituted the word “work” for “publication” and added the definition to further clarify the shift of the federal government from printer to author.

    While the first clause of 17 USC § 105 prohibits government copyright ownership in works by the government, the second allows government copyright ownership in the works of others. Most people put a mental period after the first clause, reinforcing the erroneous belief that the U.S. government cannot own copyrights. However, the second clause clearly states: “[but] the government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.”

    While the CC0 license is not appropriate for federal government works, it or some other CC license could be applied to works for which the Government holds copyright.

    Also see: “Copyright Alert! Even U.S. Government Information May Be Protected Information May Be Protected by Copyright” http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/apr09/Klein.shtml

  2. Bonnie,

    CC0 is a waiver not a license. That aside, I don’t understand your argument at all. Yes, works not prepared by a government employee are subject to copyright restriction and the same may be available to the US government abroad. So you’ve established that there are important restrictions on US government works. Thus, it would be nice to waive those restrictions — and that’s exactly what CC0 does.