Home » post » White House claims copyright of photos on Flickr

White House claims copyright of photos on Flickr

White House Makes Full Copyright Claim on Photos, by Kathy Gill The Moderate Voice (Feb 6th, 2010).

The U.S. government policy on photographs and copyright is pretty straightfoward: photos produced by federal employees as part of their job responsibilities are “not subject to copyright in the United States and there are no U.S. copyright restrictions on reproduction, derivative works, distribution, performance, or display of the work.”

Why, then, is the Obama White House asserting that no one but “news organizations” can use its Flickr photos? Why is it asserting that manipulation is prohibited? Why is it asserting that photos may not be used in “commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House”?


Print Friendly

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

1 Comment

  1. Bonnie Klein says:


    Although, United States Government (USG) works prepared by officers and employees of the U.S. Government as part of their official duties (17 U.S.C. § 101) are not protected by copyright in the U.S. (17 USC §105 < http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html> ), there may be other intellectual property and legal limitations governing the terms and conditions of their use.

    Privately-created, copyrighted works (e.g. quote, photograph, chart, drawing, etc.) incorporated into USG works under license or with permission of the copyright owner retain their copyright.

    Similarly, contractors and grantees are not considered Government employees; generally they hold copyright to works they produce for the Government. The Government is granted a worldwide license to use, modify, reproduce, release, perform, display or disclose these works by or on behalf of the Government; the USG license is not always transferrable to the general public. Uses, transmission or reproduction of these protected items beyond that allowed by fair use http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html or other limitations on exclusive rights (§107-§122 http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html )may require permission of the copyright owners.

    Also note that the 17 USC Sec 105 allows the USG to acquire and retain copyrights transferred to it. See “Copyright Alert: Even U.S. Government Information May be Protected by Copyright” http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/apr09/Klein.shtml published in Searcher, April 2009 issue.


    Privacy and publicity rights are separate and distinct interests from copyrights. Copyright protects the copyright holder’s property rights in the work. Privacy and publicity rights protect the interests of the person(s) who may be the subject(s) of the work. Privacy and publicity rights are the subject of state laws which vary in what is permitted. Also note that related causes of action may be pursued under the federal Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125 (a), for example, for unauthorized uses of a person’s identity in order to create a false endorsement.

    If a recognizable person appears in a photograph or video recording, or the talent (such as a performance or narration) of a known individual is included in an audio or video recording, use for commercial purposes may infringe on a right of privacy or publicity. Permission should be obtained from the recognizable person or known individual or the estate of the known individual, if deceased. However, if the intended use is primarily for educational or informational purposes, e.g., books, newspapers, and magazines reporting facts of historical significance, then such uses will generally not be considered an infringement of personal rights.

    18 United States Code, §709, prohibits the intentional unauthorized use of USG emblems, insignia, names and trademarks to create a misleading impression of affiliation or endorsement by the Federal Government.

    A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.

    See “Use of Government Personnel Uniform and Insignia in Promotional or Advertising Materials” by L. Victorino and K. Szeliga at http://www.governmentcontractslawblog.com/2009/05/articles/intellectual-property/use-of-government-personnel-uniforms-and-insignia-in-promotional-or-advertising-materials/

    Neither the U.S. Government nor its employees endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes, or services. Reference to or appearance of any specific commercial products, processes, or services by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the U.S. Government. The views and opinions of authors expressed on USG web sites or in materials available through download from agencies do not necessarily state or reflect those of the U.S. Government and they may not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.

    With respect to materials (e.g., documents, photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, tools, data products, or services) neither the U.S. Government nor any of its employees or contractors make any representations or warranties, express, implied, or statutory, as to the validity, accuracy, completeness, or fitness for a particular purpose; nor represent that use would not infringe privately owned rights; nor assume any liability resulting from the use of such materials and shall in no way be liable for any costs, expenses, claims, or demands arising out of the use of such materials.

    * USG does not grant exclusive use rights with respect to USG material
    * USG should be acknowledged as the source of its material. Title 17 USC Sec 403
    * It is unlawful to falsely claim copyright or other rights in USG material. Title 17 USC Sec 504
    * USG material may not be used to state or imply the endorsement by USG or by any USG employee of a commercial products, processes, or services, or used in any other manner that might mislead.
    * Use of USG identifiers which would express or imply such an endorsement is strictly prohibited.
    * Use of the USG agency name or initials as an identifying symbol by organizations other than the agency is strictly prohibited.
    * USG does not indemnify nor hold harmless users of USG material, nor release such users from copyright infringement.
    * USG personnel are not authorized to sign indemnity or hold harmless statements, releases from copyright infringement, or documents granting exclusive use rights.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to FGI posts

By signing up, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

%d bloggers like this: