As you may know, works of the U.S. Government are not protected by copyright in the U.S. (17 USC §105), but we often discover copyrighted government publications that one would reasonably think would be in the public domain and, more recently, we see works that were treated as public domain in print suddenly being treated as copyrighted when they are converted to digital. No matter how clear the law is, this can lead to confusing situations. Take the case of a movie produced by the United States Information Agency. USIA was was prohibited by law from distributing films in the United States, but a Congressional Resolution did authorize USIA to sell six master copies of the film to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Then Carl Malamud obtained a copy of a video tape of the movie from NTIS, digitized it, and posted it at the Internet Archive. Now the Kennedy Center is claiming that the film is copyrighted and that the Center has exclusive rights for distribution and NTIS has requested that Malamud take down the digital copy he created.
The Resolution (Congressional Record, August 26, 1965, p.21256) says:
Accordingly, the United States Information Agency is authorized to make appropriate arrangements to transfer to the trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts six master copies of such film and the exclusive rights to distribute copies thereof, through educational and commercial media, for viewing within the United States. The net proceeds resulting from any such distribution shall be covered into the Treasury for the benefit of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The film begins with a notice (at 00:00:25) that says the film “is presented in the United States by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington DC, in accordance with a resolution of the Congress.” It ends (at 1:26:08) with what looks like a copyright notice (it is hard to read in the digital version) that (I think) says “Copyright 1964 by the National Center for the Performing Arts, All rights reserved.” I assume that these were added by the Center to the original film.
What will Malamud do? He asks you to advise him:
One agency of the federal government has issued a takedown notice to another agency of the federal government, which in turn demanded that we remove a film from the Internet. Not knowing what to do, I have appealed for your help.
I hereby bring this plea before the Court of Appeals for Wonderful Things, appealing to a jury of my peers, all happy mutants, for their verdict.
Read the complete story here:
- US government sends itself a takedown notice over JFK documentary: you decide what to do!, posted by Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing (Apr 26, 2013).
And watch the movie while you can:
- John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning/Day of Drums (1964), United States Information Service, AVA11312VNB1, 1964. (Run time: 1h 26′ 18″)
The program dramatizes the thousand days of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, from his inauguration in 1961 to his tragic death on November 22, 1963. The videotape emphasizes Kennedy’s and America’s hopes for his term as president. Uploaded by Public.Resource.Org under Joint Venture NTIS-1832 with the National Technical Information Service.