Are Government Documents Copyrighted?

Works produced by the U.S. government don’t receive copyright protection. If you want to use government documents as web content, you can do so without fearing any claims of infringement.

There is, however, a caveat to that rule. Some government documents may contain a copyright notice that indicates certain portions of specific documents cannot be used in this manner.

For instance, you might find a report from the Department of Labor that would work well with your job search site but you’d be unable to use it “as is” if it indicated a copyright was claimed by a specific author for portions (or all) of the report.

Government documents can be a great source of content (and information) but care must be taken to ascertain with certainty that no rights are reserved.

Additionally, potential users of government documents for web content should consider the fact that most government publications are not written in a manner that makes them a particularly enjoyable or interesting read.

They tend to be long on information and short on readability! Reliance upon government documents for web content can create more yawning visitors than happy ones.

There is a time and a place for everything, though. Sometimes, a great government report or a special document will be just what you need to make your website complete. In those cases, make sure there aren’t any specifically delineated reserved rights and feel free to use the government document.

You can find government documents online by using any of the major search engines. Google makes it remarkably easy. They have a special federal government search function. You can also go into advanced search options on the main Google search page and adjust the results to showing only those documents that originate from a “.gov” domain.

Beware, however, of using “.gov” materials that don’t come from the federal government. The law requires the federal government to relinquish copyrights in most cases, but state laws don’t always follow suit.

If that article you just found came from a “.gov” site for the State of Kansas, for instance, you might not be able to use it without infringing upon copyright. Not all government documents are available for use without clearance.