[Openstreetmap] public domain in USA (was: How to donate LOTS of Aerial Photos)

Richard Fairhurst richard at systemeD.net
Tue Dec 13 13:45:13 GMT 2005

Quoting Immanuel Scholz <immanuel.scholz at gmx.de>:

> I already wanted to ask the "legal department" of OSM: Are
> information (e.g. maps), which are public domain within the
> USA are allowed as reference to draw a map in OSM with? As
> copyright is a national law, some countries does not have
> a "public domain" at all (germany) and stuff that is public
> domain in countries may not be in other countries.

We have a legal department? :)

Firstly, I wouldn't get too hung up on the specific legal definition of 
domain". Whether or not this term is specifically defined in non-US countries,
it should exist as a general legal concept, if only because it's mentioned in
the text of the Berne Convention to which all relevant nations are a 

The US Government, as an "author of literary and artistic works protected by
this Convention" like any other, "shall have the exclusive right of 
the reproduction of these works, in any manner or form". (Official _texts_ are
exempted by the Convention, but not artistic works like maps/geodata.)

Title 17 of the United States Code, Section 105, clearly states that 
protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States
Government". But this, of course, is solely US domestic law and should have no
bearing on the wider world.

So I'd concur that, outside its own borders, the US Government is simply
choosing not to assert the copyright to which it is entitled. 
_Theoretically_ a
future US Government could order OSM to remove any works based on their
material. Very strong precedent, of course, is that they won't.

I'd recommend reading this page:

(The relevant link to the CENDI page is broken, but this works:
http://www.cendi.gov/publications/04-8copyright.html#317 )

We have two options. Either do as the rest of the Internet (except 
seemingly) and use US Government material regardless; or seek permission from
individual agencies, whether already stated or by approaching them ourselves.
I'm more tempted than usual to take the former approach, but suspect 
the latter
is probably the way to go.

Presumably map companies' lawyers across the world have encountered 
this issue;
I'd be interested to know of their experiences.


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