Articles Tagged with public domain


Open DataJosh Tauberer recently announced the release of “Open Government Data: Best Practices Language for Making Data ‘License Free.’ That document sets forth recommendations for federal agencies issuing data, and sample Creative Commons Zero (public domain) licensing statements.

In the memorandum, Mr. Tauberer and his colleagues discuss how open licensing protocols can be applied by various federal government authors—agencies in house, through contractors, or a mix—to different outputs, such as codes, laws, reports, etc. The overriding principle is that because the federal government’s material is not subject to copyright protection, a CC0 license will make it clear to users that the government disclaims its copyright.

When contractors are involved, things get a little more complicated: “Works produced under a contract with the government may be subject to copyright protection. Any such contract should specify that any copyright in the work is transferred to the government.” Transferring the copyright to the government, of course, obviates it, as federal government works are not subject to copyright protection under the Copyright Act. For mixes of government and non-government works, they recommend that “non-governmental contributors be required to waive copyright protection to their submissions,” which is another way of bringing taxpayer funded government work product into the public domain. This shouldn’t be a controversial proposition, but we’ve seen what happens when private standards are incorporated by reference into law.


An interesting copyright suit has come across the wires:  Astrolable, Inc. v. Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert. The complaint alleges that Defendants infringed on the Plaintiff’s copyright assignment to historical time zone information with their Timezone (tz or zoneinfo) database. The Timezone database, also called the Olson Database, is a library of historical timezone information. It is intended primarily for use with computer systems, notably UNIX (from which Mac OS X is derived). That means that time zone information for computers running UNIX and Mac comes from this library, which is included in the operating system.

The tz database was originally compiled by Arthur David Olson at the NIH, and has been edited and maintained by Paul Eggert at UCLA. Olson and Eggert are the named defendants in this complaint. The database was housed on NIH servers until the complaint at issue was filed. ICANN has since taken over the database. This suit is important because UNIX systems rely on updates to the tzdatabase to run time zone information. The complaint was filed by Astrolabe, Inc., a company that sells astrology software. Astrolabe asserts that it is the copyright assignee for the ACS Atlas. It appears that the heart of the complaint is that defendants used ACS’ historical time zone data to populate the tz database.


This week, I want to point our readers over to a recent post by Joe Hodnicki at the Law Librarian Blog. Joe notes a letter sent recently to the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, requesting that Dr. Billington appoint a Director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to assist in the release of unclassified and non-confidential CRS Reports. Among others, the American Association of Law Libraries, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Free Government Information, Public Citizen and the Sunlight Foundation signed the letter. (A full list appears in the blog post.)

The letter speaks to the accessibility of these valuable public policy (and public domain) documents, which are prepared by the Congressional Research Service for the members and staff of the U.S. Congress. While U.S. taxpayers spend nearly $100 million to fund the CRS, Congress does not disseminate the reports in any systematic way, and no comprehensive list of these reports is even publicly available from which to request reports.

I know it’s not lost on most of you that this is a movie we’ve seen before (or, rather, we see time and time again). It’s time to remove the barriers to access and paywalls we see that surround all public domain legal and government materials.

Posted in: Legal Research