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Librarians Care About the Public Domain: Free State Government Information


To celebrate Copyright Week, the American Library Association will join a number of organizations around the world in exchanging ideas, information and actions about ways to reform copyright law. From Monday, January 13th until Saturday, January 18th, copyright experts will explore different aspects of copyright law on the District Dispatch. The guest article below comes from Kris Kasianovitz, Government Documents Librarian at Stanford University.*

“Contrary to popular belief, state agencies do have the right to copyright their publications.” ~Margaret T. Lane,  “Selecting and Organizing State Government Publications” 1987.

Section 105 of the Federal Copyright Law only covers federal government information. The copyright fate of state and local is left to case law, ambiguous or in some cases very explicit state level laws governing copyright of their publications. In a fast-growing digital world, access to digitized or born digital publications is the new norm for faculty, students, journalists, citizens.  But this access is impeded by the lack of clarity on the copyright issue of state and local publications. The time has come for this to change.

Personally, I believe all state and local government publications should rest in the public domain, just like their federal counterparts. They are created for the people, at the tax-payers expense, to advance transparency and support democratic processes. Access to these materials, especially when libraries and archives have the means to digitize and disseminate the content, should be supported by state government agencies.

In the Summer of 2008, I wrote an article for Documents to the People, asking “Why Care about Copyright?”  In it I asked the following set of questions:

Why should we as state government information librarians care about copyright? Most who work with the materials feel or believe they are public documents freely available to all, just like federal publications. We are not necessarily doing anything with this material that could be interpreted as copyright infringement. We collect, house, and make them accessible to our communities–who in turn use them mostly under the principle of fair use. But wait, what happens when libraries want to digitize state government publications and make them widely accessible? What do we need to take into consideration when we capture, preserve, and make born-digital state government materials and web sites accessible through online archives?

Unfortunately, these questions still remain unanswered; the copyright conundrum is alive and well.  This is the driving force behind Free State Government Information (FSGI)

FSGI is a small group of librarians seeking to promote law, regulation and policy at the state level that ensure the widest possible access, use and reuse of state government information for the purposes of research, civic engagement and government transparency.  FSGI accomplishes this mission through collaboration with government agencies and libraries in developing and advocating for a standard intellectual property policy and practice that will place state government information into the public domain or other freely accessible status.

Are you ready to get involved?? Send us a message via our contact form at:

Kris Kris Kasianovitz, State and Local Government Information Library,
Stanford University Library,  @govinfogal

The views and opinions expressed in this post are that of the author only, not of Stanford University.

*The opinions stated in the guest article do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Library Association.

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Ted Wegner is a former member of the Washington Office government relations team.

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