Wikipedia:Public domain status of official US government works

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The public domain status of official government works is sometimes difficult to determine, but keeps coming up on Wikipedia again and again. There are some easy cases: works of the United States federal government, for example, are not protected by copyright and are thus in the public domain. The same does not hold in general for the works of other governments. Determining whether all works, or particular works, of a particular government are in the public domain requires research and possibly even legal advice.

Open issues[edit]

Any thoughts on these new ones, e.g. Moonriddengirl (talk · contribs)?

New Jersey[edit]

DavidinNJ (talk · contribs) created another NJ template; it seems valid, but see the closed discussion below. I just edited the Commons version. I need to copy over my edits.--Elvey (talk) 03:37, 30 June 2013 (UTC)

The New Jersey license does not permit modification, so it's not free content, much less public domain. --Carnildo (talk) 21:56, 11 July 2013 (UTC)
Nonsense, as explained elsewhere. (example)--Elvey (talk) 05:19, 18 July 2013 (UTC)


Sabromowitz (talk · contribs) created a MD template; it seems invalid. We should delete it?--Elvey (talk) 03:37, 30 June 2013 (UTC)

I see you took my lead and proposed deletion, Carnildo.--Elvey (talk) 05:19, 18 July 2013 (UTC)


See .--Elvey (talk) 03:37, 30 June 2013 (UTC)

{{PD-INGov}} and {{PD-TXGov}}? - Indiana and Texas?[edit]

See !


Cross-wiki consistency in the naming of {{PD-laws}} Commons:Template:PD-US-GovEdict, Commons:Template:PD-EdictGov, etc. should be sought.--Elvey (talk) 03:37, 30 June 2013 (UTC)

Puerto Rico Template:PD-PRGov[edit]

I've been asked to create a template. I'm moving/copying the discussion here, so it's in a more findable place. All my comments in this thread are in italics so it's less challenging to identify who said what. Here is the thread. --Elvey (talk) 04:04, 19 February 2010 (UTC) : Hello I need someone to create a PD tag for the Imags of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, an institution of the Government of Puerto Rico responsible for the establishment of the cultural policies required in order to preserve, promote, enrich, and convey the cultural values of Puerto Rico. Said images are PD and I have the confirmation of the Pueto Rican government to such respect which I can provide. If you can do it or if you can direct me to the person that has the knowledge to create such a tag, I will appreciate it and provide futher information. Tony the Marine (talk) 04:19, 11 February 2010 (UTC)

Hi. I can help. I've created (and deleted) PD tags before; I guess that's how you found me. To start, I need to establish the PD status. Please provide or point me to more info that I can use to justify the tags, per Wikipedia's complex and specific rules. --Elvey (talk) 02:54, 13 February 2010 (UTC)
    • Thank you for responding. First, a little about myself. Even though I am not what they call a "polished" historian, I have been recognized as such by the Puerto Rican Government and have been named the Official Historian of ANSO the Association of Naval Service Officers of the United States Navy. As such I have access to military and political figures both in the United States and the territory Puerto Rico, among which are the Governor and the Secretary of State/Lt. Gov. of the island. The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, an institution of the Government of Puerto Rico which is funded by the United States Federal Government and whose image copyright laws fall under the Federal Government of the U.S..

My main concern was the images of the images and the not the written content used or published by The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. I knew that images as such are Public Domain, however, to be on the safe side I decided to contact and ask about the image PD status the Secretary of State/Lt. Governor of Puerto Rico, the Honorable Kenneth McClintock, who holds a doctorate in international law and as an authority knows about the matter and is also spokesperson for the People of Puerto Rico. Here I will publish the correspondence between us (He is fluent in English as well as Spainsh and his e-mail was in Englsh as published here).

"Estimado Honorable Lt. Gov. K. McClintock, I know that you are a very busy person and I wouldn't bother you if for not a question that came up. Since you have a doctorate in law, I figured that no one is more qualified to answer my simple question. Are the images of famous Puerto Ricans used by the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture Public Domain? I am almost certain that the institute would not pay for the usage of images of famous Puerto Ricans that they honor in their publications and so on. Could you please inform me? Gracias. Tony Santiago

He responded:

"Tony, The images the IPC uses in its publications, as well as the portraits of Governors and First Ladies (which hang in La Fortaleza---although the Governors', that will hang at the State Department for 2 weeks beginning next Monday), Senate Presidents and House Speakers (which hang at the Capitol), the Secretaries of State photos, which hang at my Department, and so forth, are clearly in the public domain because: (1) nobody is paid for their continuous use, and, (2) the government does not claim payment from anyone from their reproduction and use. I hope this is of help to you. Kenneth D. McClintock; Secretary of State; San Juan, Puerto Rico.

He also responded the following:

" These images were commissioned and paid for by the Government, for public use, with public funds, so they may be reproduced freely. No one has any rights over such images, having sold the images and rights appurtenant to their work to the people of Puerto Rico. KDM"

I will not publish his e-mail address for security reasons, however I have forwarded his e-mail address to "OTRS" in regard to this image File:01 KDM.jpg and if you have access to OTRS, you will be able to verify the interaction between us. (2012 Note by Elvey: It's now File:Kenneth_McClintock_PR.jpg and tagged {{PD-release|author=the {{w|Government of Puerto Rico}}}}.)

If you can create a PD tag for the images (not the written content) of The Insititute of Puerto Rican Culture, not only will I appreciate it, but also the People of Puerto Rico. Thank you. Tony the Marine (talk) 22:57, 13 February 2010 (UTC)

Please check out the example of the PD template which I created for the portraits of the Puerto Ricans Governors, First Ladies, Senate Presidents, House Speakers and Military heroes, which has the permit granted by OTRS to the Puerto Rican Government, Workshop. Tony the Marine (talk) 16:48, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

First of all, I think it makes more sense to upload all these to Commons instead. Rationale. Do you agree? Let's create the appropriate template(s) there (after a bit more discussion here, I think). It's just as easy to use media uploaded there as it is to use media uploaded here.... and can be used, for example, at OK? --Elvey (talk) 02:20, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
PD-USGov may not be used for the work of any individual U.S. state, territory, commonwealth, county, municipality, or any other subdivision. If the Federal government runs the IPC, that does NOT mean all the works in the IPC are PD. Many works in Federal museums, owned by the Federal Government are not in the public domain.
I see you've gone ahead and created Template:PD-PRGovt-Art yourself. In my opinion, it doesn't pass muster yet, so I suggest you hold off on using it further. Let's work together to improve it. In creating it, your edit summary says: 'for the PD portraits of Governors, First Ladies, Senate Presidents, House Speakers and Military heroes in the Capital Building of Puerto Rico.' but the template itself doesn't say anything like that. It's important that a template be self-documenting. It must explain what it is and is not to be used for, and should be named accordingly.
If template tags are to justify images the IPC uses in its publications, and portraits of government officials of Puerto Rico that hang in public buildings, (i.e. Governors and First Ladies, Senate Presidents and House Speakers, Secretaries of State, and so forth) based on the justification that the Secretary of State/Lt. Governor of Puerto Rico, as verified in OTRS, says they're in the public domain, then THAT'S exactly what the template(s) should say. And a template must only be used for what it says, and be named appropriately - e.g. PD-PRGov-OfficialPortraits, or PD-PRGov-IPC. There is no PD-PRGov because no one has provided evidence that all works of the PR government are in the public domain. So creating PD-PRGov-OfficialPortraits, and PD-PRGov-IPC-Pubs and deleting PD-PRGovt-Art seems to make sense to me. (We could write out Puerto-Rico.)
FYI, if you buy a painting, that doesn't necessarily give you the right to take photos of it and sell 'em.
(The IPC is The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, right?)
Gotta run! --Elvey (talk) 04:04, 19 February 2010 (UTC)
  • Thank you for your comments, I truely appreciate them. I was a little desperate and goofed up. Could you please create the proper template or fix the problem for me? I'll even delete the template that I created when you tell me to do so, since I goofed up. (Yes, IPC is The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture). Tony the Marine (talk) 15:20, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
Sorry I didn't follow up on this. Stuff came up. See Note I added, above. We still need a template for this and other US territories. --Elvey (talk) 02:06, 30 June 2013 (UTC)

Closed issues[edit]

NJGov and NCGov[edit]

NJGov and NCGov

Could an admin please restore Template:NJGov found and Template:NCGov found; interesting - There's a case for PD-NCGov. But it's quite iffy., e.g. to my userspace? I would like to review the citations; they may have been erroneously deleted as Template:PD-FLGov was. I just read the TfD. Note: Please include the citations! --Elvey (talk) 18:37, 16 October 2009 (UTC)

Update: Never mind. I looked over the old templates; I think they WERE invalid and were appropriately overwritten with a redirect.--Elvey (talk) 21:24, 24 October 2009 (UTC)
In August and October of 2011, and January of 2012, new versions of Template:NCGov were again deleted. (See [[1]] and [[2]] (the latter is useful as it enables non-admin review of some relevant citations, unlike Template:PD-NCGov itself which is hidden from non-admin view).) I see no evidence that NC law changed; it remains iffy, but it seems that in the general case, there are no copyright-related restrictions that the NC gov't is specifically allowed to put on its public records, and it is required to provide copies, at cost, to all. (See administrator Geogre's say-so that "property of the people " does mean public domain in NC at here too. The early NC template's author noted that it quoted heavily from statute here <sic> so it's worth a look too! I can still see a case about whether copyright (e.g. resale or derivative) restrictions are permissible going either way. --Elvey (talk) 22:02, 12 April 2012 (UTC)
What happened to the earlier (pre-2009) deleted versions of Template:PD-NCGov? It looks like they disappeared into an Orwellian Memory Hole! There was a Template:PD-NCGov in continuous existence from at least 2005, when I'm sure it was around, until it was deleted for the first time in August 2011, according to [[3]]. Really, it was never deleted 'till 2011? ISTM that previous deletions have been excised from the deletion history. I know that detailed edit history and diffs are hidden, but the record of the deletion itself is not to be hidden or oversighted (AKA nom-du-jour), IIRC. Surely Wikipedia policy is NOT to allow memory holes!?! Perhaps it existed but was a redirect or wasn't a license for much of that time. That would explain it. --Elvey (talk) 22:02, 12 April 2012 (UTC)
On 12 August 2005, User:EagleOne created {{PD-NCGov}}; the formatting (but not the substance) was changed a few times in the months after that. On 23 March 2006, User:SPUI redirected it to {{no license}} (later, {{di-no license}}), which is standard practice for invalid license templates that are in use. After a brief edit war and a TFD, the redirect stuck: the law cited by the template was a freedom of information act, not a public-domain dedication (people often have trouble telling the two apart). On 9 August 2011, User:Fastily deleted the redirect citing "routine housekeeping" (presumably because the redirect hadn't been used in years). I see no memory hole here: there is no deletion record for the very simple reason that there was no deletion! --Carnildo (talk) 00:45, 13 April 2012 (UTC)
So, in other wordis, like I said I thought, "it existed but was a redirect or wasn't a license for much of that time.". Of course if there was a memory hole, a normal admin wouldn't see it.--Elvey (talk) 02:06, 13 April 2012 (UTC)



Works of the state government of California. TfD debate is archived here.

Duk inquired about this matter [4]:

I just got the following email after talking to several State of California lawyers:
...The ownership issue disclosed on each State website puts the "information" contained on the website in the public domain. However, this does not include copyrightable materials such as photographs. Photographs taken by State of California workers while on State of California business are owned by the State of California, and should not be used commercially without State of California approval. Other photographs taken by and owned by individuals that may be on a State website should not be used commercially without the owner's approval.

Note: the above is from a few years ago ('06). The following is current ('09):


CA Appellate court says "writings of public officials and agencies" available under California’s public records law (CPRA), are generally not subject to copyright[edit]

( I found that one reporter doesn't know a ruling from a settlement!!) found the court's ruling. I see the judge refers to Microdecisions v Skinner several times! Wow! My reading is that the court is unanimously stating (on p. 35-36) that it interprets the CA constitution to grant the people access to the public record without restrictions, except where the legislature has made an exception. The constitutional wording is quite different, but it seems the court is saying that much like in FL, "writings of public officials and agencies" available under California’s public records law (CPRA), are generally not subject to copyright. The times are a-callin for a {{PD-CAGov}} resurrection? I just asked the deleter to discuss here. Perhaps we should investigate/wait to see if there's an appeal to the state supreme court?--Elvey (talk) 00:34, 16 October 2009 (UTC)

It's not important compared to the above ruling, but does say:
"In general, information presented on this web site, unless otherwise indicated, is considered in the public domain. It may be distributed or copied as permitted by law. However, the State does make use of copyrighted data (e.g., photographs) which may require additional permissions prior to your use. In order to use any information on this web site not owned or created by the State, you must seek permission directly from the owning (or holding) sources."
--Elvey (talk) 07:44, 23 October 2009 (UTC)
There's a wikipedia article on the case: County_of_Santa_Clara_v._California_First_Amendment_Coalition.--Elvey (talk) 22:26, 24 November 2009 (UTC)
I think that ruling was more about access to the data and secrecy rather than copyright status per se.GeoBardRap 20:37, 30 June 2011 (UTC)
I think a central issue in the ruling was the impact of copyright claims on disclosure. The data wasn't secret; it had been sold 18 times to various public and private entities that had each filled out a form that was created specifically to facilitate such sales. --Elvey (talk) 22:24, 14 January 2012 (UTC)
More info, references[edit]

A record of the government of California that was in any way "involved in the governmental process" and "prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency" or officer, and has been obtained pursuant to the Sunshine Amendment of the Constitution of California, and/or the California Public Records Act (CPRA), which contained no relevant provision(s) for copyright, and is not subject to any other copyright claim, is in the public domain. Per County of Santa Clara v. CFAC, the "CPRA contains no provisions either for copyrighting [this work] or for conditioning its release on an end user or licensing agreement by the requester. The record thus must be disclosed as provided in the CPRA, without any such conditions or limitations." --Elvey (talk) 22:47, 14 January 2012 (UTC) (adapted from Template:PD-CAGov, as the commons template is brief and points here for justification)

Template tweaking[edit]

In Santa Clara, the CA court not only says that "end user restrictions are incompatible with the purposes and operation of the CPRA." It also says that “[W]e find the Florida court’s reasoning persuasive.... ”This mandate overrides a government agency’s ability to claim a copyright in its work unless the legislature has expressly authorized a public records exemption.” (Microdecisions, Inc. v. Skinner, at p. 876.) " I've edited the CAGov template because as written, it did not apply to File:Cerritos_Veterans_Memorial_Lapel_Pin.JPG, though the law does, so I fixed the template. Surely, the lapel pin was not obtained by someone filing Sunshine Amendment paperwork.
I was going to add explicit mention of the exception in statute for software to the template, but people generally don't upload such software to wikipedia, so I didn't.
Oh, and how 'bout this version of the first sentence in small type?

  • "It is not copyrighted because the work's "unrestricted disclosure is required" (unless there is an exception in statute like those for works of the Department of Toxic Substances Control or works of certain colleges established by statute)."

--Elvey (talk) 04:56, 28 December 2012 (UTC)


Seems to confuse PD with public record. Seems to be an orphan. Redirect to DI template?--Elvey (talk) 00:55, 16 October 2009 (UTC)

I've redirected it: it quotes all sorts of law about what is a "public record", but says nothing about the copyright status of those records. --Carnildo (talk) 01:09, 16 October 2009 (UTC)
Nice to cooperate with you. :) --Elvey (talk) 18:28, 16 October 2009 (UTC)
I went digging through some Montana code and found this: 2-6-102. Citizens entitled to inspect and copy public writings. That says that citizens have the right to "inspect and take a copy of any public writings of this state" except: 1) library records, 2) burial records, 3) individual privacy interests, 4) details of jails/prisons that may endanger individual privacy or individual or public safety. This appears to be very similar to this text in the Florida constitution, which gets a PD tag: "Every person has the right to inspect or copy any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any public body, officer, or employee of the state, or persons acting on their behalf, except with respect to records exempted pursuant to this section or specifically made confidential by this Constitution." Is there anything that makes Montana's situation significantly different? If not, it seems like this template should be cleaned up (citing the code above) and restored. - Afiler (talk) 20:39, 25 December 2009 (UTC)
I'm not so sure. As the name of the title is "Citizens entitled to inspect and copy public writings," it is clear that citizens can copy. This is likely to be interpreted as meaningfully narrower than PD. If citizens can copy, can non-citizens create derivative works too? Not necessarily. So it's rather like , which (which is not an official policy or guideline) says is NOT OK for Wikipedia. So, I don't think the situation is like Florida, or even California. MTGov works don't seem to qualify as free content. See Wikipedia:Image copyright tags/Free licenses. Arguably, something like Template:CC-BY-ND-MNGov WOULD make sense. The justification, expressed in official policy for licenses is to "keep Wikipedia's own legal status secure as well as to allow for as much re-use of Wikipedia content as possible." We're here to create an encyclopedia, and one could argue that CC-BY-ND is acceptable. But consensus appears to be that it is not acceptable. So I'm not going to create Template:CC-BY-ND-MNGov myself, or fight for it like i did for PD-FLGov, if someone else makes it. Essentially, it would be a fight over the acceptability of CC-BY-ND. It's also possible that judicial opinion will do for MN what it did in CA, or even that it's done so but we don't know about it. --Elvey (talk) 08:58, 27 December 2009 (UTC)
The law only covers one of the major points of what makes a free-content license (permission to copy), and only extends it to Montana citizens. It doesn't cover the other major points: modification, and distribution of modifications. --Carnildo (talk) 22:18, 27 December 2009 (UTC)
The Florida law doesn't appear to cover modification and distribution of modifications either. I'm not saying that means the Montana template would be valid, but whatever rationale that was used there might apply here. As far as the "citizens" term, Montana law extends the same rights to non-Montana United States citizens. It would be nice to find the state's position on this, like in the case of Minnesota, since I could see the official position being that works are PD (even if technically they could still exercise rights in some cases). -- Afiler (talk) 05:25, 1 January 2010 (UTC)
Florida law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, places the works in the public domain, so modification and distribution of modified works are both permitted. --Elvey (talk) 09:11, 19 January 2010 (UTC)

Yes, they are public domain. The Microdecisions decision put it best: "The copyright act gives the holder the exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute a work and to authorize others to do so." "As such, a copyright owner may refuse to provide copies of the work or may charge whatever fee he wants for copies of the work or a license to use the work." The "public records law, on the other hand, requires State and local agencies to make their records available to the public for the cost of reproduction." "This mandate overrides a government agency’s ability to claim a copyright in its work unless the legislature has expressly authorized a public records exemption." Doesn't get any clearer, really. These quotes of the Microdecision were actually taken from County of Santa Clara v. CFAC (pg. 35), which also came to the exact same conclusion. The Montana laws are not substantially different, so either all these public records laws override copyright, or they all don't. The latter is obviously false. If the work doesn't fall under an exception, the state waives copyright, and is therefore under the public domain. Int21h (talk) 05:25, 13 April 2010 (UTC)

Interesting point; I've un-hidden this section, and am reconsidering my opinion. Up to the word 'so', I agree with you, but after that, I'm unsure, because California law isn't binding on Montana courts. But state courts do often defer to each others rulings. So I think a)there's a good argument made, but b)it's hardly decided law. I think the quote below is relevant. --Elvey (talk) 17:30, 13 April 2010 (UTC)
In a case of first impression, courts often rely on persuasive precedent from courts in other jurisdictions that have previously dealt with similar issues. Source: Legal_precedent#Persuasive_precedent
It might be a state court decision, but it is deciding facts about federal law. Facts are facts no matter where you are, and federal law applies to all states equally. But yes, it would appear it's far from decided law. :( Int21h (talk) 20:30, 21 May 2010 (UTC)

Copyright puffery (OT)[edit]

Copyright puffery

PS It's absolutely retarded that at the bottom of this edit page, it says

Please do not copy and paste from copyrighted websites – only public domain resources can be copied without permission.

That is utter bullshit. Lots of resources that aren't PD can legally be copied without permission! But that's quite OT. --Elvey (talk) 08:58, 27 December 2009 (UTC)

The statement is correct but badly worded: it's true that only public-domain resources can be copied without permission. The other resources that can be copied directly to Wikipedia are ones under a free license, where that free license is a grant of permission. --Carnildo (talk) 22:18, 27 December 2009 (UTC)
No, I don't think so. It's badly worded, yes, but it's also simply bullshit. I see your point - a free license is a grant of permission. However, I'm sure you agree that it's often perfectly fine to copy and paste content from copyrighted websites. (Consider .) The improper instruction of the first half of the sentence, "Please do not copy and paste from copyrighted websites" is not rectified by the second half. (If it's not utter bullshit, then it's still sufficiently badly worded to be indistinguishable from bullshit.) P.S. Where should discussion of modifications to this text take place? --Elvey (talk) 09:11, 19 January 2010 (UTC)
It took a lot of work, but I/we finally fixed it. --Elvey (talk) 04:03, 28 December 2012 (UTC)

U.S. State governments[edit]

In most cases, products of state and local governments are not PD, so the following templates mostly point to a 'deletable image' template. Exceptions are noted.


Include any new templates in Category:US_State_PD_templates.