Jump to content

Requests for comment/Support for US copyright amendment (edicts)

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki

The following request for comments is closed. The request was eventually archived as inactive.

Proposal: That the WMF support the Edicts of Government Amendment petition, an amendment to the US copyright act that will clarify that US laws and related documents are in the public domain.

(first proposed on the advocacy mailing list)

The public-domain project resource.org is petitioning to make the following amendment to the US copyright act, to clarify the public-domain status of all government edicts: including laws, ordinances, and similar documents. This will significantly increase access to this body of materials as citations and for direct quotes, as well as making them available to Wikisource. Many are not currently viewable for free online, with digitized versions protected by paywalls. The petition reads:

To promote access to justice, equal protection, innovation in the legal marketplace, and to codify long-standing public policy, the Copyright Act of the United States, 17 U.S.C., should be amended as follows:

“Edicts of government, such as judicial opinions, administrative rulings, legislative enactments, public ordinances, and similar official legal documents are not copyrightable for reasons of public policy. This applies to such works whether they are Federal, State, or local as well as to those of foreign governments.”

This language comes directly from Section 206.01, Compendium of Office Practices II, U.S. Copyright Office (1984). It reflects clear and established Supreme Court precedent on the matter in cases such as Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 (1834) and Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244 (1888). The law belongs to the people, who should be free to read, know, and speak the laws by which they choose to govern themselves.

WhiteHouse.Gov Petition[edit]

A petition on WhiteHouse.Gov has been created for the general public to sign, or not, as they see fit. The long link is: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/support-copyright-act-amendment-making-edicts-government-laws-regulations-not-copyrightable-thus/P7W50DqZ Short link to share is: http://wh.gov/lInfx


  1. Making these documents freely accessible to people online would be beneficial to the public. --Michaeldsuarez (talk) 22:51, 26 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  2. I see no harm or waste of time or resources in supporting this amendment. This is not advocating for or against a political ideology, but rather a clarification of an important copyright issue that has direct bearing on the usability and accessibility of a significant amount of content (at least in the English language wikis). For the legal protection of the Foundation, and for the ease of access of the editors and visitors to the wikis, it makes sense for us to support such a clarification. —Willscrlt “Talk” • “w:en” • “c” ) 07:51, 3 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  3. Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not a U.S. citizen nor a resident. However, as a citizen of the world (and a country recognizing Bern convention) I am affected with U.S. copyright policies. Regarding the topic: advocacy for a free access to knowledge is a vital part of Wikimedia Movement's mission. As a chapter person, I expect my and other chapters to (at least politely) ask and educate regulators in this area. Then, if I expect that from affiliates, then I should expect it from WMF as well, shouldn't I? :) Then, support. aegis maelstrom δ 00:39, 22 June 2013 (UTC) P.S. Maybe it is me, but I find the two comments against found below slightly out of place, not to say aggressive.[reply]
  4. It is a very precise change in existing copyright that can be justified by the positive results of the existing government works clause. -- 02:29, 5 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]


  1. Political lobbying instead of priority issues such as protecting children, removing child edits from adminship, cleaning up the corruption at Commons, etc. is a silly way to go. Ottava Rima (talk) 23:18, 26 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  2. Remember this guy? He switched from fighting for copyright reform to government reform. You should too. </soapbox> --Elvey (talk) 07:31, 30 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    Hi Elvey, I am familiar with that switch - could you say more about what you mean here however? That you do not feel Wikimedia entities should have positions on issues related to copyright (which I believe Lessig still does), or simply that it is a waste of time compared to other issues? I think government reform is sufficiently outside the direct work of the Wikimedia projects that it is unlikely for us to engage in related advocacy; and don't know of any chapters where this is different. (In contrast, a number of chapters do take positions on issues related to copyright and dissemination of knowledge, in some cases with apparent effect.) SJ talk 
    The latter. I agree. --Elvey (talk) 21:11, 13 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]
    Oppose. Wiki ian 04:06, 28 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]

What's the point?[edit]

I also don't see any argument for how this makes the law significantly clearer or stronger, so I went looking for one. On the one hand, I found this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpDyk45jjps&t=5m55s : In '10, Carl Malamud reported that some states prominently warn that the state statues may not be copied without written permission - including CO GA ID MI WY. He reported that 21 states asserted copyright over state regulations. He reported that even in CA, a clickthrough license to get to official reports of the courts required agreeing to not share the material. I wonder if he's talking about PACER. On the other hand, the public-domain status of all government edicts is already clear enough that we have these templates: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:PD-laws (made October 26, 2010 by Y.T.), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Template:PD-US-GovEdict (made 6 June 2009) and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Template:PD-EdictGov (made 22 June 2010). This isn't a proposal for a constitutional amendment. If passed, it just makes the law as already defined by U.S. Copyright Office AND in case law by SCOTUS into black letter law, right? It'll still be perfectly legal to sell copies of these documents. It won't make any documents freely accessible that aren't freely accessible today, AFAICT. It is likely to reduce the frequency, and hence chilling effect of bogus copyright claims. --Elvey (talk) 01:23, 23 June 2013 (UTC)[reply]


  • The petition writers aren't looking for more signatories. But they would appreciate more people blogging and writing about it. Carl Malamud writes: "The hope is to spur this as a topic if/when they amend the copyright law. [Maybe] blog support for the amendment? That would be hugely helpful. And, I think it's important for your work"
SJ talk