User:Rezonansowy/new/Copyright Center/Copyright Rules by Territory/United States

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United States[edit]

US copyrights for works first published in US, excluding audio works

Anything published[1] before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain. Anything published before January 1, 1964 and whose copyright was not renewed is in the public domain (search the Copyright Renewal Database, Stanford University for books, or renewal records for books and maps[dead link]). Anything published before January 1, 1978 with no copyright notice ("©", "Copyright" or "Copr.") plus the year of publication (may be omitted in some cases) plus the copyright owner (or pseudonym) is also in the public domain. Anything published in or after 1978 but before March 1, 1989 with no copyright notice is in the public domain unless the work's copyright was registered within 5 years of the work's initial publication.

Works which were first published outside the US (and not subsequently republished in the US within 30 days) on or after January 1, 1923 may be copyrighted in the US by virtue of the URAA (Uruguay Round Agreements Act) even if the work's US copyright previously expired due to a failure to comply with US copyright formalities (copyright renewal and inclusion of a copyright notice.)[2] In general, such works had their US copyright restored if the work was out of copyright in the US due to noncompliance with US formalities but still under copyright in its country of origin on the URAA date. (For most countries, the URAA date is January 1, 1996.) Works first published in the US are not affected by the URAA.

The US copyright situation for sound recordings (including those published before 1923) is a complicated special case. Recordings fixed on or after February 15, 1972 are covered by federal copyright and therefore are subject to the same copyright rules as other works. Recordings fixed prior to February 15, 1972 may be copyrighted under common law and/or state laws which do not always have the same formalities and limitations as US federal copyright. (Works other than sound recordings are subject only to federal copyright.) More details are available in this Wikilegal report. Under current federal copyright law, all state copyrights on sound recordings will be annulled on February 15, 2067, and on that date recordings subject to state statutory and/or common law copyright will enter the public domain.

Works created after January 1, 1978 are protected for 70 years after the death of the creator. Works created before 1978 and first published after or in 1978 are protected for the earlier of 95 years from publication or registration for copyright or 120 years from creation (for anonymous or corporate works) or 70 years after death of the creator for known authors; if it was published in 1978-2001, that copyright is extended to December 31, 2047 if it's shorter. (Thus no works first published with permission of the copyright holder between 1978 and 2001 in the US are out of copyright.)

U.S. copyright law applies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, but does not apply in American Samoa.[3]

Copyright Law of the United States

Works by the Government and Public Administration[edit]

A work by the U.S. federal Government is in the public domain. This applies certainly within the United States; it may, however, not apply in other jurisdictions. See the CENDI Copyright FAQ list, 3.1.7, the U.S. Government's own statement to that effect, but also this discussion.

Example of public domain work created by NASA, a U.S. federal government agency
  • Images on government or government agency websites are not necessarily public domain; always look for copyright notices or similar. Especially the images on the favorite website "Astronomy Picture of the Day" are in most cases not within the public domain but copyrighted by their individual authors (so please do not upload images from there to Wikimedia Commons). Images on certain military websites (e.g. AKO) frequently are creations of military members in their individual capacities (e.g. soldiers on patrol using their personal cameras). These images may not be in the public domain, but they are very hard to distinguish from works of military photographers, and they rarely contain copyright information.
  • This does not include governments of the individual states. The work of most state and local governments are subject to copyright, but there are some exceptions.
  • This does not include government-funded corporations like Amtrak or the USPS. In particular, the USPS holds exclusive copyright to all US postage stamp designs since 1978 [1] (older US stamps are all considered public domain).
  • This also does not include works commissioned by the US Government, but produced by contractors; in this case, the copyright may have been assigned to the US Government (for instance, the copyright of the official Ada programming language manual was assigned to the US Department of Defense).
  • Some US government agencies may work in cooperation with other agencies or corporations; this is in particular the case of NASA, which operates the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in cooperation with Caltech, and operates a number of space projects in cooperation with foreign agencies such as ESA and CNES. Only materials solely produced by NASA are in the public domain. The other agencies may hold copyright on some material, including material published on NASA sites (in these cases there will be copyright notices— please look for them to determine copyright status).
  • The government sometimes publishes images with statements about non-copyright restrictions (like the White House photostream). This does not affect copyright.
  • Commercial use of some federal images, such as identifying insignia or identification, is prohibited however. Fraudulent use (such as wearing military decorations without authorization) is also banned. However, restrictions of this nature are not within the scope of Commons policy.
  • The United States Army Institute of Heraldry— the official custodian of such images has addressed this issue with its Copyright statement, which informs the reader as to how to meet any commercial needs under this statute.

Edicts of Government[edit]

  • Edicts of Government are always public domain in whole or in part and applies to such works whether they are Federal, State, or local as well as to those of foreign governments. This includes judicial opinions, administrative rulings, legislative enactments, public ordinances, and similar official legal documents. Precedence is that citizen are expected to understand the law and that there can be no copyright assertion of laws or court decisions. Edicts of government may or may not overlap with works by the U.S. Government.

Freedom of Panorama[edit]

OOjs UI icon check-constructive.svg OK for buildings only {{FoP-US}}

Buildings are works subject to copyright in the U.S. according to 17 USC 102(a)(8) since the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act was passed in 1990. It applies to all buildings that were completed after December 1, 1990, even if begun before, or where the plans were published after that date.

However, the U.S. federal copyright law explicitly exempts "pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations" of copyrighted buildings from the copyright of the building in 17 USC 120(a). Anyone may paint, draw, or photograph buildings from public places. This includes such interior public spaces as lobbies, auditoriums, etc. The creator holds the exclusive copyright to such an image (the architect or owner of the building has no say whatsoever), and may publish the image in any way. 17 USC 120 applies only to architectural works, not to other works of visual art, such as statues or sculptures.

This means that for buildings completed before December 1, 1990, there is complete FoP, without regard to whether the building is visible from a public place, because the building is public domain, except for the plans. For photos of such buildings, the license tag {{PD-US-architecture}} can be used (along with a license tag for the photo.) For buildings completed after December 1, 1990, freedom is given only to photograph such a building. This includes style elements such as gargoyles and pillars, which are protected only from three dimensional reproduction (Leicester v Warner Bros.)

Note that copyright applies only to "buildings".

"The term building means structures that are habitable by humans and intended to be both permanent and stationary, such as houses and office buildings, and other permanent and stationary structures designed for human occupancy, including but not limited to churches, museums, gazebos, and garden pavilions."

All such works are copyrighted and, therefore, covered by the FOP exemption only if they are visible from a public place.

"Bridges, cloverleafs, dams, highways or walkways are not ‘buildings’ under the definition of architectural works."

In the U.S., such works do not have a copyright and therefore may be photographed freely, whether or not from a public place. They do have copyrights in many other countries.

Originality requirement[edit]

This discussion must be considered qualified by the requirement under US law that a work, including a derivative work, must display originality to be protectable under copyright law. See Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co. in the English Wikipedia. More specifically, in the case of derivative works, it has been held, in Durham Industries, Inc. v. Tomy Corp.[4] and earlier in L. Batlin & Son, Inc. v. Snyder.[5] that a derivative work must be original relative to the underlying work on which it is based. Otherwise, it cannot enjoy copyright protection and copying it will not infringe any copyright of the derivative work itself (although copying it may infringe the copyright, if any, of the underlying work on which the derivative work was based). For further discussion of this issue, see the Wikipedia article Derivative work.

For a legal discussion, see Wikilegal/Pictorial Representations Architectural Works

Artworks and sculptures Nuvola apps error.png not OK.

For artworks, even if permanently installed in public places, the U.S. copyright law has no similar exception, and any publication of an image of a copyrighted artwork thus is subject to the approval of the copyright holder of the artwork. However, public artwork installed before 1923 is considered to be public domain, and can be photographed freely. In addition, any public artwork installed before 1978 without a copyright notice is also in the public domain (unless the copyright owner actively prevented anyone from copying or photographing the work until 1978). In these situations, document the date of installation and the creator (sculptor) of the pictured work as much as possible. (A good resource for finding information about U.S. sculptures is the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog.)

Applicable templates:

The line of argument that a large sculpture or memorial is a building and therefore covered by the FOP exemption was specifically rejected in Federal claims court (Gaylord v. The United States, 2008), which noted that the building exemption to the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act (AWCPA) does not extend to "The Column" sculpture in the Korean War Veterans Memorial because "[t]he structures used in the definition of 'building' by the Copyright Office are intended to house individuals; either for the sake of providing shelter or for another purpose such as religious services."[2] While the court ruled in favor of the defendant under a fair use rationale it was later overturned in favor of the plaintiff; the photograph was deemed a derivative work. The court also contended that had Congress intended to extend the AWCPA to monuments and memorials, the law would have been drafted to reflect that in the first place.

For further legal discussion, see Wikilegal/Copyright of Images of Memorials in the US.

For further information, refer to Commons:Public art and copyrights in the US and the following resources:

For foreign works considered under US law: use {{Not-free-US-FOP}}

Foreign works from countries that have a relevant freedom of panorama may fall under US law for copyright issues within the US. Under the choice-of-law principle lex loci protectionis U.S. courts might apply U.S. freedom-of-panorama standards in such cases, rather than the standards of the source country. However, in practice it is unsettled whether and how this approach would be applied in real world U.S. legal cases involving freedom-of-panorama elements.

See {{Not-free-US-FOP}} and Commons:Requests for comment/Non-US Freedom of Panorama under US copyright law.

Threshold of Originality[edit]

These images are OOjs UI icon check-constructive.svg OK to upload to Commons, because they are below the threshold of originality required for copyright protection.
These are OOjs UI icon close-ltr-destructive.svg Not OK to upload to Commons (unless published under a free license by the copyright holder), because they are above the threshold of originality required for copyright protection.
  1. For a definition of “publication” see e.g. Copyright Office circular, page 3. This modern definition is only valid for 1978 and later, as the 1909 Copyright Act did not explicitly define it, though the concepts were similar.
  2. Hirtle, Peter (2016-01-01). Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States. Retrieved on 2016-05-18.
  3. According to 17 U.S.C. § 101 (defining use of the term "United States" in the Copyright Act of 1976): "The 'United States', when used in a geographical sense, comprises the several States, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the organized territories under the jurisdiction of the United States Government." Of the organized territories, the United States Copyright Office says that: "U.S. federal copyright law applies in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands but not in American Samoa." (Circular 38a: International Copyright Relations of the United States, p. 14)
  4. 630 F.2d 905 (2d Cir, 1980), available at and
  5. 536 F.2d 486 (2d Cir.) (en banc), available at and
  6. Omega S.A., v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 541 F.3d 982, 983.
  7. Fishman, Stephen (2014) The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More, Nolo, p. 183 Retrieved on 29 August 2014. ISBN: 1413320287.