NASA content - images, audio, video, and computer files used in the rendition of 3-dimensional models, such as texture maps and polygon data in any format - generally are not copyrighted.

Aren't works automatically protected by copyright upon creation?

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    Although not what happens in this case, as explained in the answer, a copyright owner can put their work in the public domain, giving up their copyright.
    – Barmar
    Dec 2, 2019 at 3:05
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    Bottom line, NASA is a government agency funded biennially by congress with the tax dollars of the American public. The work of the agency belongs to the people, not a for-profit entity with a legitimate interest to prevent its works from entering the public domain. Dec 2, 2019 at 3:08
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    @Barmar: ...in USA legislation. There are legislations that do not actually allow you to do so. Germany, for example -- you may license your work free of charge to be used with or without modifications, but you cannot give up your actual copyright. In the same vein, German law allows to revoce even "non-revocable" licenses under specific circumstances.
    – DevSolar
    Dec 2, 2019 at 14:41
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    Aside from the legal details, just consider the moral basis: We, the people, paid NASA to create this data; why shouldn't it belong to us? Dec 2, 2019 at 23:17
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    @LeeDanielCrocker I'm all for Open Data, but some counter-arguments I've heard include (1) you the people benefit even if the data are not open, (2) the majority of people who can access NASA data are not US citizens, residents, or tax-payers, making them (us) free-loaders, (3) some data may contain security-sensitive information, (4) some agencies may get additional funding from other sources including premium customers, (5) institutional inertia, (6) extra costs involved with opening up data, (7) probably other reasons.
    – gerrit
    Dec 3, 2019 at 8:33

1 Answer 1


There is a special exception in 17 USC 105:

Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

In the definitions,

A “work of the United States Government” is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties.

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    Dec 2, 2019 at 21:52

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