Terms of use: NARA

Next in an occasional series on terms of use

In this day and age of increasingly complicated and restrictive rules for accessing and using information on the web, it’s oh so refreshing to look at the “Terms and Conditions for Using Our Web Site” posted on the website of the National Archives and Records Administration — Archives.gov.

Boiling the language on this page down to its essence and using the meaning of “terms of use” that’s being used in this series (“the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it”1), here there simply aren’t any.

In fact, about the only real “don’t do this” statement in the many, many paragraphs set out on that Archives.gov page is a warning that “Unauthorized attempts to upload or change information on this server are strictly prohibited and may be punishable by law.”2

In large part, the absence of any real access or usage restrictions on the Archives.gov site results from federal law. To the extent that the content provided on the website consists of government documents, there’s a presumption that those documents are freely open to and accessible by all3 — and access except in limited situations is additionally guaranteed by the federal Freedom of Information Act.4 And to the extent that the content was created by a federal employee for federal purposes, it’s free of any copyright restrictions.5

So, the Archives.gov terms of service state, “Generally, materials produced by Federal agencies are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.” And so, it adds, “Images on our web site (or a third party site where we share images, such as Flickr) which are in the public domain may be used without permission. If you use images from our collections, we ask that you credit us as the source.” (The Flickr photostream for the National Archives can be found here.)

It even actively encourages linking to the site: “Links may be made to our web site from other personal and organizational web pages. We request that you link to our site rather than downloading portions of it to another web server, so that our viewers will see our most up-to-date information.”6

Now before you go running off to copy and use everything you can find at Archives.gov, the site does contain two very specific warnings about its holdings generally:

     • “dissemination of some documents –- including images, sound, cartographic, textual, or electronic materials –- found in our holdings may be restricted by donor agreement. To purchase a copy of these materials, you must obtain permission from the donor.”7

     • “Some documents –- including images, sound, cartographic, textual, or electronic materials –- found in our holdings may be copyrighted. Please note that it is your responsibility to identify the copyright owner and to obtain permission before making use of this material in any way.”8

In both cases, Archives.gov provides a Source and Permissions Contact List to help identify the person or organization to contact for permission, but in all cases, it warns: “because we cannot guarantee the status of specific items, you use materials found in our holdings at your own risk.”9

And Archives.gov warns as well that “Certain individuals depicted may claim rights in their likenesses and images. Use of photographs or other materials found on the National Archives’ web site may be subject to these claims. Anyone who intends to use these materials commercially should contact the individuals depicted or their representatives.”10

That’s it. That’s all the terms and conditions there are.

Sigh. If only the rest of our web information providers made things so simple.


SOURCES

  1. A terms of use intro,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Apr 2012.
  2. Terms and Conditions for Using Our Web Site: Security”, Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov : accessed 29 May 2012).
  3. Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978) (“the courts of this country recognize a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents”)
  4. 5 U.S.C. §r; 552 et seq.
  5. See 17 U.S.C. § 105 (“Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government”). And see H.R. Rep. 94-1476 (“The effect of section 105 is intended to place all works of the United States Government, published or unpublished, in the public domain”).
  6. Terms and Conditions for Using Our Web Site: Copyright, Restrictions, and Permissions Notice.
  7. Ibid., “Terms and Conditions for Using Our Web Site: Donor Imposed Restrictions upon Materials in our Holdings.
  8. Terms and Conditions for Using Our Web Site: Copyright Restrictions upon Materials in our Holdings.
  9. Terms and Conditions for Using Our Web Site: Copyright, Restrictions, and Permissions Notice.
  10. Ibid.
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4 Responses to Terms of use: NARA

  1. Celia Lewis says:

    Easy-peasy. Definitely recommended process, eh? Thanks for the post, Judy.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Granted that not every website is government and so free of most copyright constraints. But geez… surely some of ‘em could get a little closer to this!!

  2. There really is beauty in simplicity! I love your last statement – I dare to dream that perhaps someday there will be more and more providers of information that are as open and simple as this.

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