I wonder whether 3D models & textures by NASA are public domain. Their GitHub repo implies so:

We offer these assets for your use, free and without copyright.

Or according to Wikipedia, speaking of "pictures":

Under United States copyright law, works created by the U.S. federal government or its agencies cannot be copyrighted. (This does not apply to works created by state or local governments.) Therefore, the NASA pictures are legally in the public domain.

I therefore assume they are, yet I would like to be certain. Are the contents of said repo available under the public domain, as the author of this issue assumes? How far is the "public domain" equal to WTFPL/CC0?

Update: after browsing the repo, I found the following meta.json, which claims: "license": "NASA Open Source Agreement Version 1.3" as well as "description": "collection of 3D models, textures, and images from inside NASA". This is confusing me; is this license equal to public domain?


It is reasonable to interpret the statement in their Github repository README.md as a "public domain" license for anything contained there. However, their "usage guidelines" backpedals a bit ("generally are not copyrighted", the misleading implication that content used commercially is subject to restrictions that educational and personal uses are not subject to).

Although it is true that works "created by the US government" are not protected by copyright, not everything associated with a government agency is created by the US government. An agency might have a policy that they will not post material that is not copyright-free, there is no practical means of knowing if an item is an actual government work, versus a government-supported or government-hosted work (where copyright is held by someone else). If you trust their implication that all of those items in the repository are indeed government works, then they are free of copyright. I don't know any reason to not believe them, although sometimes the government is wrong and they end up liable big-time for infringement.

However... NASA Open Source Agreement Version 1.3 (another copy on a NASA web page) on first glance seems to contradict the "government work" theory. Here, they claim to grant certain rights to users and also impose impose restrictions (including obligatory registration). This does not make any sense for a work that is in the public domain. The license is legally defective in that it fails to fill in relevant blanks (agency name, title of work, URL for obligatory registration). Also notice that the license is only for software. The scope of that license therefore has to be something narrower – it applies only to software, and presumably software that is not "a government work". I have no idea what software NASA could legally give away and is not a government work which is therefore not protected by copyright.

  • I've edited my post with further informations. What about them?
    – LMD
    Jan 1 '20 at 10:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.