Trump Transition Website Has Some Copyright Problems — Both In Copying Content & In Claiming Copyright

from the make-plagiarism-great-again dept

By now, lots of people within the Donald Trump campaign have admitted that even they didn’t really expect to win — and thus they’re scrambling to get things in order to actually, you know, run the damn country. That includes the transition website,, which (to their credit) the Trump team did get up pretty quickly. Of course, some of the reason they were able to do that was, apparently, that they just copied a whole bunch of text from another website, Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition. Now, that site is pretty good, and it’s certainly topical, seeing as the whole project is designed to do exactly this: help Presidents transition power. But that doesn’t mean that a campaign is just supposed to copy the website wholesale.

And, yet, the Trump campaign did exactly that. If the Center were so inclined, it could argue that this is pretty blatant copyright infringement (its website says that the content is covered by copyright, and it doesn’t seem to use an open license like Creative Commons, even though it probably should). There is, at least, a strong argument of fair use here, given the nature of what’s being done here — but it’s not exactly a slam dunk. Of course, it also leads to some oddities, because, in the rush to copy, the Trump campaign seems to have left in references to the Center itself or charts that weren’t copied as well:

One post, titled “Help Wanted: 4,000 Presidential Appointments,” refers to a “chart below” ? but the version on Trump’s site has no chart. On the center’s website, those lines are followed by a detailed interactive graphic showing the positions requiring Senate confirmation in the departments of Justice and State.

Another page on Trump’s site, titled “The Offices and Agencies Supporting the Transition,” is exactly the same as a page on the nonprofit’s site ? including a reference to “our own Center library.” Both versions link to the nonprofit’s online resource.

On the nonprofit group’s site, the two posts are accompanied by the name of the Partnership for Public Service staffer who wrote them. There is no such attribution on the Trump site.

But that’s not the only copyright problem here. There’s also the fact that has its own copyright notice, in which it is using a Creative Commons license — and specifically the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license, which is pretty permissive. But, of course, it can’t actually claim copyright on the Center’s material that it just up and copied.

And then there’s the separate question of can the Trump transition team actually claim any copyright at all? After all, as we’ve discussed many times, works of the federal government are not subject to copyright protection. But… is the transition site a work of the federal government? That seems like a pretty big gray area, though there’s a strong argument that it’s not. Yes, the website is hosted on .gov, and everyone knows these people will be the federal government in a few months, they’re not technically part of the federal government yet. And given that copyright law already allows the federal government to hold the copyright on works created by outside parties and then assigned to the federal government, it seems most likely that the transition team would be seen as outside the federal government for now.

Of course, it’s unlikely that any of this will matter. The Center for Presidential Transition doesn’t seem that concerned about the copying, and one hopes that there aren’t going to be any issues concerning the copyright status of the transition website, but since there has basically been zero discussion at all about the new administration’s position on copyright, watching how it handles these kinds of situations is important.

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Comments on “Trump Transition Website Has Some Copyright Problems — Both In Copying Content & In Claiming Copyright”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Currently it’s a minor but embarrassing goof on their part, getting caught red-handed like this blatantly copying from another site for theirs. Depending on where they go from here however it might be a bit more than that.

If for example Trump buys into the maximalist idea of ‘The only fair use is paid use’ and/or starts going on about how important copyright is and how violations of it need to be harshly punished then it becomes just a tad bit hypocritical to do something like this.

Oninoshiko (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Even you accept that copying in this instance is okay, turning around and claiming you have copyright on it is not.

There’s no two bones about it; when the little people get the book tossed at them harder than rape for making an image which is vaguely similar to another, the ruling elite shouldn’t get off with a slap on the wrist for it. Not the left, right, or middle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Look, you are expecting the left to do real fact checking before rushing to the press. Mike appears to be really pissed off about the results. He seemed to try to appear unbiased before the election but now that it is over he is seizing on everything he can. But the Repubs keep on winning:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

That’s such an interesting link – I have seen this one before, as a matter of fact.

A genius on this thread shreds Politifact’s policy of (gasp!) asking for sources of Trump’s statistical information:

So please – in terms of fact checking – can you Trump supporters tell me something – do you only agree with the results of Politifact when it benefits Trump?

Or should we look at this 900 seat quote link and call bullshit because Politifact lacks integrity?

Which is it folks?

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s not the first time they’ve been caught doing that but it’s indicative of the broader problem we are all expecting to encounter down the line: one rule for us, another for them.

And apparently Trump is as keen on IPR as private property as Clinton so I’m a) laughing at the hypocrisy here and b) worried that he’ll allow himself to be influenced by the USTR into making copyright terms longer and enforcement more harsh.

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