Draft third edition of USA copyright office compendium – Government Works

Copyright protection under the Copyright Act is not available for “any work of the United States Government,” regardless of whether it is published or unpublished. This includes legislation enacted by Congress, decisions issued by the federal judiciary, regulations issued by a federal agency, or any other work prepared by an officer or employee of the U.S. federal government while acting within the course of his or her official duties. It also includes works prepared by an officer or employee of the government of the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or the organized territories under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Although works prepared by officers or employees of the U.S. government within the scope of their employment are not copyrightable, the federal government may receive and hold “copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.” Works prepared by officers or employees of the U.S. Postal Service, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Public Broadcasting Services, or National Public Radio are not considered works of the U.S. government.

A work prepared by an officer or employee of the U.S. government may be registered if the work was prepared at that person’s own volition and outside his or her official duties, even if the subject matter focuses on the author’s work for the government.

As a matter of longstanding public policy, the U.S. Copyright Office will not register a government edict that has been issued by any state, local, or territorial government, including legislative enactments, judicial decisions, administrative rulings, public ordinances, or similar types of official legal materials. Likewise, the Office will not register a government edict issued by any foreign government or any translation prepared by a government employee acting within the course of his or her official duties.

There is a limited exception to this rule. Section 104(b)(5) of the Act states that works first published by the United Nations or any of its specialized agencies, or first published by the Organization of American States are eligible for copyright protection in the United States.

A work that does not constitute a government edict may be registered, even if it was prepared by an officer or employee of a state, local, territorial, or foreign government while acting within the course of his or her official duties. For example, the Office may register annotations that summarize or comment upon legal materials issued by a federal, state, local, or foreign government, unless the annotations themselves have the force of law.