Skip to Main Content

Copyright: Government Works

This guide provides information (not legal advice) to support NWC community decision-making in the use of copyright protected material in research, learning, and teaching.

Purpose of Guide and Disclaimer

This guide intends to refer NWC community users to accurate information. However, information received from the NWC Library or the NWC Copyright Librarian is neither legal advice/opinion nor legal counsel to the college or any members of the NWC community. Please contact the NWC Office of General Counsel or NWC Staff Judge Advocate's Office for NWC-related legal advice and interpretation of the law, or personal counsel for personal legal advice. The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by NWC of sites or the information, products, or services contained therein, nor does NWC exercise editorial control over the information found at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this guide. U.S. copyright law is subject to change.

Federal Government Materials

The Copyright Act provides that federal governmental materials are not protected by copyright laws. In other words, such works, by definition, are part of the public domain. The public domain status of U.S. Government works applies only in the United States.

Specifically, 17 U.S.C. § 105 states: "Copyright protection...is not available for any work of the United States Government..."

The exception adopted in 2019, however, assigns copyright ownership to literary works produced by civilian faculty in the course of employment at NWC for publications by a scholarly press or journal. Covered institutions also include other Professional Military Education (PME) institutions. Before signing a publishing contract, please speak with personal counsel and/or NWC Staff Judge Advocate's Office for support.

While this seems fairly simple, it can be a bit more difficult to apply in practice. For instance, a work of a federal contractor or grantee is not a "work of the U.S. Government," so it may be protected by copyright and depends on the contractor's hiring agreement. Additionally, even if copyright laws do not operate to protect a U.S. Governmental work, other protections (such as trademark) may apply.

It is also important to determine that within a federal government work there are no third party works that are covered by copyright (e.g., images, maps, data representations). Inclusion of a work protected by copyright within a government work does not change the copyright status of the privately created work. Although 17 U.S.C. § 403 states that a federal government work should include "a statement identifying, either affirmatively or negatively, those portions of the copies or phonorecords embodying any work or works protected under" 17 U.S.C., this is not always the case. To clarify any rights questions, it is a good best practice to contact the publishing agency or sponsoring office.

Note:

  • Many foreign countries provide copyright protection for works of their government. However, certain types of official works of government bodies, such as statutes and court decisions, are generally not copyrighted. Many foreign governments will consider waiving copyright upon request. 
  • International organizations, such as the United Nations, NATO, and the World Bank, also hold copyright. However, many of these documents may contain waivers or waivers may be obtained upon request. Depending on the particular agreement, the U.S. Government may have additional rights based on contributing, paying or being a sponsoring member of the organization.
    • Best practice tip for these types of publications: consider using URL direct links to lawful sites hosting these publications (do not post PDF versions of the publications without permission from the legal rightsholder or if the site user terms allow for that use).
  • Although U.S. Government works are not protected by copyright in the U.S., unlike works in the public domain, they may be subjected to other intellectual property and legal limitations (including statutory restrictions on disclosure of government information for national security, export control, controlled unclassified information (CUI), personally identifiable information (PII) or for other reasons) governing their use.

Statutory Restrictions on Use of Official U.S. Government Seals, Emblems, Insignias, Names

Non-copyright restrictions may apply to works of the U.S. Government that include certain indicators of federal agencies or other government offices or components. A number of federal statutes specifically address this issue and prohibit certain unauthorized uses of government or agency names, acronyms, logos, insignias, seats, etc. (e.g., to create a misleading impression of affiliation or endorsement by a federal agency or government component).

  • For more information regarding "Important Information and Guidelines About the Use of Department of Defense Seals, Logos, Insignia, and Service Medals," please see the DoD Trademark Licensing Guide.
    • "The Military Service academies are under the jurisdiction of their respective Military Service and are thereby authorized to use the Military Service seals for official purposes only."

State Governmental Materials

The copyright of materials produced by state governments varies by state law.  There is no simple provision in the Copyright Act dealing with state government materials.

Third-party copyrighted works incorporated within a state government work retain their own copyright.

For more information, please review the following resource:

Resources: Use of U.S. Government Works