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Citing Sources: Public Domain and .gov

DISCLAIMER: Material provided is only intended as a guide. This guide is not a substitute for professional legal advice.

U.S. Government Works may be in the Public Domain

United States government creative works, including writing, images, and computer code, are usually prepared by officers or employees of the United States government as part of their official duties. A government work is generally not subject to copyright in the United States and there is generally no copyright restriction on reproduction, derivative works, distribution, performance, or display of a government work. Unless the work falls under an exception, anyone may, without restriction under U.S. copyright laws:

  • Reproduce the work in print or digital form
  • Create derivative works
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Display the work
  • Distribute copies or digitally transfer the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending

More Information on U.S. Government Works and Copyright Law

Copyright Exceptions for U.S. Government Works

Most U.S. government creative works such as writing or images are copyright-free. But before you use a U.S. government work, check to make sure it does not fall under one of these exceptions:

  • Other people may have rights in the work itself or in how the work is used, such as publicity or privacy rights. Privacy and publicity rights protect the interests of the person or people who may be the subject of the work. Learn more about the differences between copyright, privacy, and publicity rights from the Library of Congress.
  • You cannot use U.S. government trademarks or the logos of U.S. government agencies without permission. For example, you cannot use an agency logo or trademark on your social media page.
  • You cannot use a U.S. government work in a way that implies endorsement by a U.S. government agency, official, or employee. For example, you cannot use a photo of a government official wearing your product in an advertisement.
  • Works prepared for the U.S. government by independent contractors may be protected by copyright, which may be owned by the independent contractor or by the U.S. government.
  • Not all information that appears on U.S. government websites is considered to be a U.S. government work. For example, it is possible that some or all of the text, trademarks, logos, or images on a U.S. government website may be protected intellectual property not owned by the U.S. government, but used by permission of the rights holder. To ensure that you don’t mistakenly use protected intellectual property from one of our websites, check with the agency or program that manages the website.
  • The U.S. government work designation does not apply to works of U.S. state and local governments. Works of state and local governments may be protected by copyright.
  • Copyright laws differ internationally. While a U.S. government work is not protectable under U.S. copyright laws, the work may be protected under the copyright laws of other jurisdictions when used in these jurisdictions. The U.S. government may assert copyright outside of the United States for U.S. government works.
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