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Re: Using NASA Imagery

On Sunday 18 January 2009 02:29:22 am Bernhard R. Link wrote:
> * Don Armstrong <don@debian.org> [090117 20:01]:
> > On Sat, 17 Jan 2009, Miriam Ruiz wrote:
> > > Does anyone know if NASA conditions [1] are DFSG-free? According to
> > > what's written there, it seems to me that they're public domain
> > > (NASA still images; audio files; video; and computer files used in
> > > the rendition of 3-dimensional models, such as texture maps and
> > > polygon data in any format, generally are not copyrighted.""), but I
> > > want to make sure.
> > Because NASA as a US government agency can't copyright things it
> > produces directly, they're usually DFSG free. (It's the equivalent of
> > public domain in the US.) [Specific examples of work are needed to
> > figure out whether that's the case in a specific instance.]
> I know this is general accepted knowledge, but has anyone ever asked
> a layer knowledgable in international copyright law about it?
> It is sure public domain in the US, but I see no reason why it should
> be public domain outside. From what I have read the US goverment holds
> the copyright outside the US and the only way it could be public domain
> in other countries is that either US explicitly waives it rights even
> in other countries (which I think it does not) or other countries' law
> making it public domain. 

The US has done all it can on this via its domestic laws... the relevent section being:

§ 105. Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works
Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

That is the only source of copyright that the United States has control over. Now, if a foreign government wants to say that, within their borders, works of the United States government are still copyrighted and controlled by the same, there really isn't a whole lot the US can do about it. But, by the same token, a government can also declare that the GPL is unenforceable and that the author has not issued a valid license. I sincerely hope we would not let a local government decision like that prevent distribution of GPLed works. Similarly, as my government has gone out of its way to share its creative works, I would hope the FOSS community avails themselves of it.

That, however, doesn't make it an open and shut case:

§ 101. Definitions

A “work of the United States Government” is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties.

Which means you have to look closely at who is doing the work. A contractor/vendor for the government may not fall under this provision, depending on the kinds of work that is being done. There is also a weird exception for certain "standard reference data" where the Commerce Secretary can actually obtain a copyright. But note that such copyright requires affirmative action on the part of the Secretary, and presumably would come with notice.

> As other countries usually do not have a 
> section stating things made for the US government are public domain,
> the only argument I've found is that most countries have some reciprocity
> for copyright of foreign subjects. But trying to understand the German law
> text (as some example, as I hope to understand that best), I think it
> says copyright of foreigners is protected if their country would protect
> the copyright of locals, and then applies the local rules of what is
> copyrightable and makes no exception for things that would not have been
> protectable abroad.

The above only applies if it's true that the U.S. holds a copyright beyond its borders. Your logic is sound, but the premise is unsubstantiated.


Sean Kellogg
e: skellogg@gmail.com
w: http://blog.probonogeek.org/

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. 
We are the ones we've been waiting for. 
We are the change that we seek. 

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