by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
obama, photos, public domain, white house

Does The White House Have Any Legal Right To Demand No Modifications To Its Photos?

from the doesn't-appear-that-way dept

You may recall earlier this year that there was a fair bit of controversy when the White House started putting photos up on Flickr. Or, rather, there was controversy over the licensing. Everyone thought it was great that the White House would have its own Flickr channel and constantly post photos -- but since Flickr only had certain licensing options that you could put on a photo, there was a problem. Even though the White House chose a Creative Commons Attribution license at the time, that was still too much. Government documents are not covered by copyright, and the photos clearly should be public domain. After a bit of back-and-forth, Flickr created a special public domain license so the White House could properly designate the photos.

And yet... it appears that the White House is now trying to claw back some rights over these photos that it just doesn't have. Tim Lee points out that along with these officials photos is a licensing claim that goes well beyond the public domain, stating:
This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
The problem is the White House has no right to say that you can't manipulate the photo, since the photo is public domain. It's really unfortunate that, once again, we're seeing how little people seem to understand (or value) the public domain.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2009 @ 3:37pm

    Everyone seems to assume (including the individual at the EFF) that the photos in question are in the public domain" by virtue of 17 USC 105. However, that assumption is premature in the absence of a factual demonstration that the person(s) who took the photographs is in fact an employee of the USG within the meaning of Title 17.

    Moreover, note that the statute does recognize that the USG may hold copyright in works transferred to it by assignment, bequest or devise.

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