As we've discussed plenty of times in the past, works created by the federal government here in the US are automatically in the public domain. There are some minor exceptions -- works created by others for the government can have copyright, and copyrights can be transferred to the US government. However, there's also one big exception, even if it's never really used: that public domain nature only applies to the US
. Most other countries have concepts like crown copyright
that allows government works to be covered by copyright -- and technically, works of the federal government that are public domain in the US can be considered
covered by copyright elsewhere:
The prohibition on copyright protection for United States Government works is not intended to have any effect on protection of these works abroad. Works of the governments of most other countries are copyrighted. There are no valid policy reasons for denying such protection to United States Government works in foreign countries, or for precluding the Government from making licenses for the use of its works abroad.
In practice, the US government has never really enforced that foreign copyright. However, with the release of the administration's new Open Data Action Plan
, the federal government is finally using CC0 declaration to waive copyright globally
when it comes to datasets from certain government agencies. Additionally, the report itself is using the same CC0 dedication, while correctly noting that such a thing isn't even needed (nor could it really be used) for the work within the US:
As a work of the United States Government, this document is in the public domain within the United States. Additionally, the United States Government waives copyright and related rights in this work worldwide through the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
This is a step in the right direction. Historically, we've seen how making US government data completely free has helped
industries grow and innovate.