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Publishing and Scholarly Communications: Copyright and Authors Rights

Copyright & Authors Rights for Federal Employees and Contractors

According to U.S. Copyright law, a work of the U.S. government is defined as "a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person's official duties" (See 17 USC § 101. Definitions.). Under Section 105 of the Copyright Act, these authors are unable to retain any copyright protections, meaning that these publications reside in the public domain. 

Government employees should inform publishers of their employment status and should not sign any document transferring U.S. copyright as a prerequisite to publication. While many publishers have forms that allow submitters to indicate their employment status, some don't and it should be addressed with the publisher prior to signing any agreements. It is recommended to run any agreements by General Counsel before signing.  

Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

Provided by CENDI (Federal Scientific and Technical Information Managers Group)

  • Is a work co-authored by a U.S. Government employee and a non-government author copyrightable?
    • A "joint work" is a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole (see 17 USC § 101.76). The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright in the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary (see 17 USC § 201.).

    • When the U.S. Government is joint author with a non-government entity, the law on how much of the work is protected by copyright is unsettled and is thus open to differing interpretations. In such situations, you should consult your Office of General Counsel.

  • If a Work Was Created Under a Government Contract, Who Holds the Copyright?
    • Unlike works of the U.S. Government, works produced by contractors under government contracts are protected under U.S. Copyright Law. The ownership of the copyright depends on the terms of the contract. 
    • Guidance come from the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), which has a number of copyright provisions. In addition, Agencies may have their own FAR Supplements that should be followed. 
    • In general, under the FAR general data rights clause (FAR 52.227-14),80 except for works in which the contractor asserts claim to copyright, the Government has unlimited rights in all data first produced in the performance of a contract and all data delivered under a contract unless provided otherwise in the contract. Unless provided otherwise by an Agency FAR Supplement, a contractor may, without prior approval of the Contracting Officer, assert claim to copyright in scientific and technical articles based on or containing data first produced in the performance of a contract and published in academic, technical or professional journals, symposia proceedings, or the like. The express written permission of the Contracting Officer is required before the contractor may assert or enforce the copyright in all other works first produced in the performance of a contract.

To view the full FAQs please visit the CENDI Copyright FAQ document.

Copyright Resources