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, GreatAgain.gov, 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 GreatAgain.gov 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.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2016 @ 3:15pm

    Does it really matter, except as another way to nitpick the guy that beat your candidate?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 15 Nov 2016 @ 3:18pm

      Re:

      It's not nitpicking.

      It's an actual copyright issue.

      Just because it belongs to a certain political party doesn't make it any less or any more of a copyright infringement.

      You only call it nitpicking because it is your candidate.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 15 Nov 2016 @ 3:45pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Oninoshiko (profile), 15 Nov 2016 @ 4:12pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2016 @ 4:25pm

      Re:

      Yes, because that is all it is .. all this bad mouthing the guy is just jealousy, there is nothing wrong with what he says and does - just some folk will complain about anything.
      amirite?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ACME GOVENMENT ESSENTIALS, 15 Nov 2016 @ 3:21pm

    Keystone cops

    could be an up side to all this

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2016 @ 4:49pm

    "lots of people within the Donald Trump campaign have admitted that even they didn't really expect to win"

    You know what is even funnier? Hillary bought fireworks for her victory party. You know, the one she didn't have and will never have.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 18 Nov 2016 @ 2:24am

      Re:

      In his interview with 60 Minutes Trump said the Clintons are good people and he doesn't want to hurt them. In light of this comment do you think Hillary will give her fireworks to Trump as a gesture of goodwill?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2016 @ 5:22pm

    Copyright issues aside, this seems to be a clear case of plagiarism. And for many people, that's even worse -- if not legally, then definitely ethically. Seeing someone else try to claim your work as being there own is a feeling few can comprehend until they experience it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 18 Nov 2016 @ 2:29am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2016 @ 8:12am

    At least it uses HTTPS, with a certificate from Symantec Corporation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2016 @ 9:01am

    One hopes that eventually Trump and Co. will copy the clue server. And login to it. Last part is critical.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard Bennett (profile), 16 Nov 2016 @ 11:52am

    Great post

    This is why I read TechDirt: nobody else has the nerve to stand up to The Donald on an issue as important as this one. Great work, Master Masnick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.