White House photos and copyright – a brief lesson

Recently, a great copyright learning opportunity occurred when the White House started posting on Flickr photos shot by White House staff photographers.

As many who read this will know, Creative Commons is the means by which many people (including me) grant (in advance) the way their (our) words, images, music, video, scientific research or other intellectual property can be re-used (“intellectual” being used in its legal context, not the one that suggests anything found on the RexBlog could possibly be construed as intellectual in any other context).

While Creative Commons has an attribution license that covers works in the public domain, Flickr doesn’t offer users a way to display it among its Creative Commons options. Because work created by individuals on the payroll of the U.S. government (i.e., White House staff photographers*) is in the public domain, the White House didn’t really have an accurate Creative Commons license that could be used on Flickr. Someone at the White House chose the most open license short of public domain.

Fast-forward two weeks. While not adding such a public domain default option, someone at Flickr (who obviously read all the blog posts on the mini-controversy) has added a link to the government’s Copyright.gov website explanation that government work is in the public domain.**

End of lesson.

*Some great photographers have served stints on that staff, including Gerald Ford’s, David Hume Kennerly.

**While government-created work is in the public domain, there is certain third-party content that is owned or licensed by the government that is not. In other words, just because you see something on a government website doesn’t always mean it’s in the public domain. However, you’d be amazed at how much is.