United States Government Works and the Copyright Act of 1976 What is a usgw?

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United States Government Works and the Copyright Act of 1976
What is a USGW?

United States Government Works (USGWs) include any text, image, dataset, audio or video clip prepared by a federal employee, while on government time. They are free of copyright in the United States.

The term USGW only applies to the work of the federal government, including territories under the jurisdiction of the federal government, but not to state or local governments. Works created by government contractors or by citizens are not USGWs.

Copyright Act of 1976

USGWs are defined in Section 105 of Chapter 1 of Title 17 of the United States Code, which is known as the Copyright Act of 1976. Note the last line of Section 105, as the federal government may – and does - hold copyright in works transferred or assigned to it. Thus, if the owner of a work decides to give the work to a federal agency, a federal agency may:

  • lawfully hold that copyright;

  • may enforce it;

  • may collect royalties from it; and

  • may prevent others from using it without permission.

The federal government may (and often does) assert copyright abroad, by charging foreign governments for access to our documents.

Federal Websites

Federal websites contain a mixture of content, some of which is restricted by U.S. copyright law and some of which is not. For instance, images or text on the site may be created by contractors or citizens, or may be used according to the terms of the license.

In addition, federal sites often incorporate federal seals, emblems and trademarks. For these reasons, entire federal web pages should not be labeled as "public domain" or as a collective USGW. Nor should they have any kind of private sector copyright status label affixed to them.

Consult with your agency attorneys on how to proceed with tagging your agency’s work as policies may differ by agency. If your attorneys do not have copyright experience, the legal teams at the Copyright Office, the Library of Congress and GSA can provide assistance.

Find additional background on USGWs.

Copyright Policy page

As more agencies leverage content generated by members of the public, through video contests and guest blogs, the best practice is to establish a YOUR_AGENCY.gov/copyright page with language that allows others to legally use or reuse user-generated content on your site.

You may wish to use language similar to what is found on the White House’s Copyright Policy page.

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