Commons:Works by non-U.S. governments declared to be in the public domain globally

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Background[edit]

U.S. law typically does not take into account the copyright status of works outside U.S. territory, and this can create a serious anomaly in which some works can be public domain according to the law of most countries except the U.S., where copyright still applies. This is particularly problematic for copyright-expired works by non-U.S. governments that have fallen into the public domain in the source country, but where that public domain status is ignored for the purposes of U.S. law.

The U.S. courts are bound by their local laws, and may uphold copyright claims even in respect of works that are public domain or otherwise out of copyright according to the law of the source country. Since the Wikimedia Foundation servers are based in the U.S., we cannot ignore U.S. law even when it is out of step with less restrictive laws elsewhere.

There is a longstanding policy on Commons that we accept only media

  • that are explicitly freely licensed, or
  • that are in the public domain in at least the United States and in the source country of the work.

Although we can never ignore U.S. law, it is quite possible for the potential owner of any U.S. copyright to publicly disclaim that copyright, which we hope and believe should prevent any subsequent enforcement attempt before the U.S. courts. Under this policy, we accept that an official confirmation of public domain status globally acts as a quit-claim of ownership of U.S. copyright. See this statement by the WMF legal team for more background.

One of the most important issues arises from a U.S. federal law called the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) that restored or in some cases brought into U.S. copyright protection for the first time certain non-U.S. works that were earlier considered to be public domain under U.S. law. The law brought back into U.S. copyright certain non-U.S. works that were still copyrighted in the source country on the URAA date (1st January 1996 in most cases). This policy covers but is not limited to works whose U.S. copyright has been restored under the URAA.

What this policy covers[edit]

The policy covers government works that have fallen out of copyright in their non-U.S. source country - usually by virtue of their age - but which are still copyright-protected in the U.S. By "government works" we mean material that falls within a specific section of local copyright law which regulates the copyright protection of government and government-related works. Commonwealth countries typically have Crown Copyright, and many other countries have similar provisions.

The policy applies not only to works in which the local copyright was held directly by a national government, but also where the copyright holder was a government entity such as a local or regional authority or quasi-government organisation, provided that the "Government works" provisions of the local law apply.

What this policy does not cover[edit]

Our longstanding policy already covers licensed releases of copyright material, and bulk releases of such material should simply be tagged with the chosen licence in the normal way, with any doubts on licence validity being referred to the OTRS team. So, it would be allowable for a company holding material that is public domain in the source country but is copyright-protected in the U.S. under the URAA explicitly to license its U.S. copyright under a CC-BY licence. More preferable, though, would be a release under {{CC0}}.

A release of material under {{CC0}} is always considered to be of global effect, and needs no special treatment other than the files being tagged {{CC0}}. Because of national legal differences, the courts of some countries might consider {{CC0}} to be a disclaimer of copyright while others might consider it to be a form of licence allowing totally unrestricted use. These national legal distinctions do not matter for our purposes, since {{CC0}} is allowed here in either case.

Statement of policy[edit]

Where a non-U.S. government or government entity makes a global public domain declaration to the effect that its officially-created works fall into the public domain globally when their copyright expires, and not just for the purposes of local law, then we treat that as a quit-claim of ownership of all copyrights worldwide, which means that we can host such works on Commons.

For consistency with our existing licensing policy, we can also accept a declaration to the effect that such works are considered to be public domain in the U.S. (ie not necessarily 'globally'). However, that is not preferred.

Requirements for a valid global public domain declaration[edit]

No specific legal wording is required for a global public domain declaration to be acceptable to the Commons community, but it must

  • be issued in writing on behalf of a non-U.S. government or government entity that is the owner of any potential U.S. copyright, for example any URAA-restored copyright, and
  • have been made by an individual whom we can reasonably accept has authority to do so.

Normally the declaration will be issued by the government entity that was the previous owner of the now-expired local copyright in the source country, but a government statement that can be considered to bind the government entity may be accepted.

The declaration itself should

  • refer clearly to an identifiable potentially-copyrightable work or class of works,
  • indicate how that work or class of works has or will enter the public domain under the law of the source country (this will normally be by virtue of copyright expiry under local law as a government work), and
  • confirm that the issuer of the declaration accepts that the work or class of works are public domain under the law of the source country, and that that public domain status is considered by them to apply globally (or at the very least in the U.S.)

The statement must not

  • make comments which are clearly only conditional or temporary,
  • be a mere declaration of current intent, nor
  • be made subject to any requirement of confidentiality.

A practical rather than a legalistic approach should be taken to this. There is for example no need for an explicit government confirmation that the declaration will never be changed or retracted in the future (governments are not normally willing or even legally able to bind themselves in such a way). Of course, anything stated to be temporary or conditional would not be good enough.

How to apply the policy[edit]

All valid global public domain declarations should be noted in the table below. To ensure such declarations remain publicly available, a copy of any relevant text should be held on a public Wikimedia site along with a link to the original source. If government works of that country already have a suitable public domain tag, that tag should be modified so that it links to this policy and makes it clear that the public domain status is to be considered as global and not just local.

Examples of acceptable global public domain declarations[edit]

  • "All Government-copyrighted works become public domain worldwide when their copyright expires".
  • "So far as we are concerned, all copyright in this photograph has expired, and we would not attempt to assert copyright in another country, even if allowed by that country's court".

Examples of non-acceptable global public domain declarations[edit]

  • "All Government-copyrighted works become public domain when their copyright expires". [It is not made clear whether this 'public domain' is local only, or worldwide]
  • "We would not expect to assert copyright on this photograph anywhere in the world". [A mere declaration of current intent. Does not act to disclaim any U.S. copyright that might exist]
  • "English law does not recognize the U.S. URAA". [But no commitment is being made not to file a claim before the U.S. courts]

Global public domain declarations (by country)[edit]

Country Scope of declaration Relevant part of text Link to Wikimedia-held copy External link Notes
Canada Expired Canadian Crown copyright "we would like to confirm that our understanding of the term/period of Crown copyright is that expiry of Crown copyright is applicable worldwide regardless of other copyright expiry rules that are in force in other countries. Unlike the United States, Crown copyright that is now in the public domain has not been renewed, and Canada has no intention of renewing expired Crown copyright" ticket:2013122310013986 verification checks on-going In progress. See Commons:Deletion requests/File:Burlington Skyway 1958.png for an initial precedent.

Template {{PD-Canada-Crown}} now incorporates a valid URAA exemption for expired Crown Copyright works, with reference to ticket:2013122310013986.

Israel Expired government works until 2008 law change. A photograph taken on 24 May 2008 or earlier — the old British Mandate act applies, i.e. on 1 January of the 51st year after the creation of the photograph (paragraph 78(i) of the 2007 statute, and paragraph 21 of the old British Mandate act). If the copyrights are owned by the State, not acquired from a private person, and there is no special agreement between the State and the author — on 1 January of the 51st year after the creation of the work (paragraphs 36 and 42 in the 2007 statute). in progress, the minister of law was contacted and they are preparing a paper with the needed release notes. In progress
United Kingdom Expired UK Crown copyright "any Crown copyright material published before <1954>, would now be out of copyright, and may be freely reproduced throughout the world" http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikipedia-l/2005-May/022055.html Crown copyright expires fifty years from the end of the year in which the material was first published, and the stated 1954 cutoff was relevant as at the declaration date of 2005.
Notes

See also[edit]