How can I find out whether I can reuse city or county publications?
July 28, 2011 10:16 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to find out whether publications by a US state, county, or city agency are copyrighted?

I understand that most works created by the US federal government are not copyrighted in the US - but also that that does not apply to works created by state, county, or city agencies.

What's the best way to find out whether I can reuse part or all of publications by a city or county agency?

I'm interested in the general answer to this question, but at the moment I'm particularly interested in evaluation reports of buildings that are being considered for historic landmark status. These reports often have both text and photographs. (I'm thinking of things along the lines of Supplemental Determination of Santa Monica Landmarks (pdf), South End Landmark District (pdf), and John Woodward House (pdf).)

In at least one case, I've emailed the commission but not heard back. I've also looked at this previous question, in which two people calling the agency got completely different answers ("yes, please do whatever you want and reuse however you like" and "no, not only can you NOT reuse, you can't even link to them").

Ideally, I'd like to be able to republish large chunks of these works, or even entire works, on an ad-supported website.

So - can anyone recommend a good, widely applicable, reliable method of determining when I can reuse publications created by non-federal government agencies?

posted by kristi to Law & Government (3 answers total)
Unless explicitly granted to the public domain or through a creative commons type of license, copyright should be implicitly assumed. That's about as reliable a rule of thumb as there is.

The proper way to go about this would be to approach the publishing agency with a request, properly framed.
posted by dhartung at 10:21 AM on July 28, 2011

Wikipedia is usually a good thing to check for this, because they need as many public domain sources of information as they can get. This page is very sparse, and only specifically mentions the states of California and Florida. It also appears that Florida's constitutional restriction on copyright also applies to "any state, regional, county, district, municipal, or other unit of government" in the state.
posted by zsazsa at 10:33 AM on July 28, 2011

First off: according to the Copyright office "State and local governments may and often do claim copyright in their publications. It is their prerogative to set policies that may allow, require, restrict or prohibit claim of copyright on some or all works produced by their government units."

So the fundamental question is how to get permission, as dhartung states it is best to assume there is a copyright. With commissions they are often open to the public so if it is relatively easy to do so I'd find their schedule show up (perhaps a little early) and ask. Or, call the City Clerks office (or equivalent) and inquire if they can giver permission, and if not what the process is, as I suspect if there is copyright on commission reports it will be held by the city. (obviously bump up to State level for State commissions/reports)
posted by edgeways at 10:33 AM on July 28, 2011

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