I want to reuse a gif published in this website of this US government agency. I don't see any copyright statement anywhere, except a link to Freedom of Information Act. In my vague understanding of this, it doesn't seem to say anything about having license of reusing public material on my purpose, but just about requesting to access such material.

So, if I'm a non-US person and wanting to reusing a material from a agency of US government, what license may I have?

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    In this particular case, the GIF is credited to “Dr. Marcelo Saba, National Institute for Space Research, Brazil”. While Dale M's answer is correct that works created by the US government are not covered by copyright within the US, it's not at all clear that the GIF would be such a work. Copyright notices are a courtesy, but in no way required for something to be copyright-protected.
    – amon
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 11:50
  • 4
    US copyright law makes no distinction based on nationality. The answer to this question is the same regardless of your status as a non-US person.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 21:37
  • 1
    @phoog The laws of the person's own country regarding foreign copyrights might vary, however, depending on what country it was.
    – nick012000
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 9:15
  • 2
    The international Berne Convention includes agreement over respectiing foreign copyrights. Historically, the USA refused to sign up to that for a long time, until the rest of the world decided that if the USA ignored foreign copyright it was going to ignore USA copyright, and the threat of hugely important copyright violations (like Chinese rip-off copies of Walt Disney products) made the USA get into line with everyone else! (USA copyright law changes in the last 100 years have all been designed to protect Walt Disney "for ever", regardless of the consequences for everyone else.)
    – alephzero
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 12:13
  • 3
    Does this answer your question? Can the US Government assert copyright on a government work internationally?
    – crasic
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 13:56

4 Answers 4


17 USC 105 provides that:

(a) In General.—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.

Under 17 USC 101:

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.

However under 17 USC 105 (b):

Subject to subsection (c), the covered author of a covered work owns the copyright to that covered work.

The definitions section of section 105 provides that "covered authors " are faculty members at any of 12 specified institutes, academies, colleges, and universities run by the Federal Government, and "covered works" are any textual works created by covered authors.

Thus to be free of copyright under section 105, a work must have been created by "an officer or employee of the United States Federal Government as part of that person’s official duties." and not by a faculty member at any of the institutions listed in 105 (d). 17 USC 105 does not apply to works by the various US state governments, nor to contractors hired by the US Federal government.

Works that are free of copyright under section 105 are in the public domain under US law, and may lawfully be used in any way at all, but it is widely considered unethical, although not unlawful, to fail to credit the source of such works, or indeed of older works long out of copyright protection. Note that such works could be protected under the laws of other countries, and such copyrights may apply outside the US.

Just because an image or text is published by a US government agency does not waive copyright, nor does the absence of a copyright notice. (Under the Berne Convention a copyright notice cannot be required for protection, and US law implements this in 17 USC 401 (a) which provides that a notice may be present.)

The web page linked in the question above includes the statement:

Video contributed by Dr. Marcelo Saba, National Institute for Space Research, Brazil

This strongly implies that Dr Saba owns the copyright, although it does not prove that. It might be owned by the Institute, or some other employee of the Institute. But Dr Saba could probably indicate who does own the copyright, and on what terms if any the image may be used.

When content is protected by copyright, a license to reproduce that content must normally be explicitly stated. The US Freedom of Information Act (FoI) has nothing to do with providing such licenses. It does not matter under US law whether the person wanting to reuse content is a citizen or resident of the US or not, the rules are the same for all. However, US government works may be protected outside the US. It is the location of use, not the nationality of the person using them, that will matter.

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    Is that valid outside of the US? The answer by Paul Johnson appears to claim otherwise. The OP states "a non-US person". That may well be a person outside of USA. Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 8:36
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    @Vladimir It doesn't mater whether the prospective re-user is a US person or not. But outside the US, such works may be protected under a non-US copyright law. Use in that location, by anyone, may be infringement under tht non-US law. I have edited my answer to mention this. Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 15:08
  • The Freedom of Information Act is near-universally abbreviated “FOIA,” e.g. here on Wikipedia. The law itself includes “Each agency shall designate a Chief FOIA Officer who shall be a senior official of such agency (at the Assistant Secretary or equivalent level),” making that abbreviation a part of US federal law. And “FOIA” is how the law and the materials procured under it are discussed widely in American journalism. Please adjust your parenthetical to use the correct abbreviation.
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 20:22

As others have noted, works by the US Government are public domain within the USA. However that does not apply abroad:

3.1.7 Does the Government have copyright protection in U.S. Government works in other countries?

Yes, the copyright exclusion for works of the U.S. Government is not intended to have any impact on protection of these works abroad (S. REP. NO. 473, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 56 (1976)). Therefore, the U.S. Government may obtain protection in other countries depending on the treatment of government works by the national copyright law of the particular country. Copyright is sometimes asserted by U.S. Government agencies outside the United States.


There is no copyright in US government works

US copyright law explicitly disclaims copyright in works produced by government employees (but not contractors) in the course of their employment.

This is not necessarily the case for other governments including US state governments.

  • Does that mean I am free to use the material, even not citing the source?
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 10:22
  • Yes, if the logo was made by an employee of the US government; maybe not if it was made by an advertising agency
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 11:23
  • 2
    @Dale M The image in question is not a logo, but one of several photographs showing lightening strikes, and the credit line makes it doubtful that it was produced by an employee of the US. See my answer. Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 16:37
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    There is copyright in US government works in jurisdictions other than the US.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 21:38

Your status as a foreign national has no bearing on copyright.

That is to say, US citizens do not get any sort of special treatment with regards to copy rights of US government works. From the perspective of any given country's laws, almost certainly: US works that are public domain for a US citizen, are public domain for you. Works under copyright control for a US citizen are controlled for you. Works which are classified (a crime to publish) for a citizen are classified for you. Works which the country prohibits publishing for a US citizen, it prohibits for you.

Of course, a country may treat treat people present in the country differently than those it would have to extradite.

Keep in mind not everything on a US government site is a work product of the US government.

  • 1
    Is that valid for people outside of the US? Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 8:36
  • 1
    @VladimirF see where I say "re: a country's laws", awkward language but that sentence was already really complicated. Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 21:52
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    "Works which are classified (a crime to publish) for a citizen are classified for you." Did you mean "work for a US citizen"?
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 13:45

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