U.S. Government Works

Learn more about how copyright applies to U.S. government works.

About U.S. Government Works

U.S. government creative works are usually produced by government employees as part of their official duties. These works include writings, images, videos, and computer code. A government work is generally not subject to copyright in the U.S. Unless the work falls under an exception, anyone may, without restriction under U.S. copyright laws:

  • Reproduce the work in print or digital form

  • Create derivative works

  • Perform the work publicly

  • Display the work

  • Distribute copies or digitally transfer the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending

Copyright Exceptions for U.S. Government Works

Most U.S. government creative works such as writing or images are copyright-free. But not everything is. So before you use a U.S. government work, check to make sure it does not fall under one of these exceptions:

  • Other people may have rights in the work itself or in how the work is used, such as publicity or privacy rights. Privacy and publicity rights protect the interests of the person or people who may be the subject of the work. Learn more about copyright, privacy, and publicity rights from the Library of Congress.

  • You cannot use government trademarks or government agencies' logos without permission. For example, you cannot use an agency logo or trademark on your social media page.

  • You cannot use a government work in a way that implies endorsement by a government agency, official, or employee. For example, you can't use a photo of a government official wearing your product in an ad.

  • Works prepared for the government by independent contractors may be protected by copyright. The copyrights may be owned by the independent contractor or by the U.S. government.

  • Not everything that appears on a government website is a government work. Content on a government website may be protected intellectual property used with the rights holder's permission. This content can include:

    • Text

    • Trademarks

    • Logos

    • Images

To ensure that you don’t use protected intellectual property, check with the agency or program that manages the website.

  • The U.S. government work designation does not apply to works of state and local governments. Works of state and local governments may be protected by copyright.

  • Copyright laws differ internationally. U.S. copyright laws may not protect U.S. government works outside the country. But the work may be protected under the copyright laws of other jurisdictions when used in these jurisdictions. The U.S. government may assert copyright outside of the United States for U.S. government works.

More Information on U.S. Government Works and Copyright Law

Ask Questions

If you have questions about U.S. government works, please contact the U.S. Copyright Office.

Four Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Starting the Patent Process

Before you start the patent application process, make sure you have the answers to these following questions about intellectual property, originality of your design, and different types of patents.

Four Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Starting the Patent Process. See the transcript below.

  • Four Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Starting the Patent Process

    1. What type of intellectual property (IP) protection do I need?
    2. In my invention "new, useful, and non-obvious?"
    3. Do I have everything I need to apply?
    4. What kind of patent do I need?

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Last Updated: July 18, 2019