Laws Of .com

Over-reaching White House Copyright Disclaimer

The White House’s Flickr account has been accused of spreading copyright misinformation.  Each of the over 4500 photographs posted by the White House includes a disclaimer statement that limits the use of the photo for press purposes and for personal use by the subjects of the photographs – apparently excluding use by others for any purpose, even satire and fair use purposes.  Claims have been made that these limits are unenforceable under federal law.

According to U.S. sources, standard copyright laws do not apply to photographs taken by government employees as a function of their official duties.  Under those laws, anyone may, without restriction under U.S. copyright laws, reproduce and display such works, create derivative works, distribute copies or digitally transfer the work to the public, etc.  This is subject to some exceptions (e.g., a prohibition on using U.S. Government trademarks and logos without permission, or implying an endorsement by the U.S. Government or one of its agencies).  Also, individuals in the photographs may have publicity or privacy rights (under state laws) that may not be violated.  However, aside from the privacy and publicity rights of the “First Family”, the White House cannot legally restrict the public from using government photographs.

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