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This review of state copyright law is a project of Katherine Zimmerman, Copyright Fellow at Harvard Library's Office for Scholarly Communication.

What's on this website?

For each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, we've tried to identify the relevant laws and legal sources that affect the copyright status of government documents. Each state will have some or all of the following information:

The copyright status is our assessment of the current copyright status of government documents in the state. Red indicates that documents are presumptively copyrightable, green indicates that documents are presumptively public domain, and colors in-between indicate a tendency to one or the other where the governing law is not clear.

Openness Score

The Openness Score is a quantification of all of the indicators we've identified that a state will or will not assert a copyright interest in their public records. We've calculated the score by quantifying the arguments and factors related to the copyright status of government documents in that state – the same arguments and factors we describe in the text. These factors are based on the factors that courts have considered when deciding the copyright status of government documents in the states that have done so (take a look at New York, Florida, California, and South Carolina to see how it turned out). The openness score is the z-score of that quantification – it measures the number of standard deviations a state is above or below the average across all states.

In some cases, the openness score will not match the listed copyright status; this occurs where there is binding law on the copyright, but the underlying factors go in a different direction. This could mean that the dominant law would be overturned if examined by a court, or it could reflect a deliberate change of direction within the state government. The openness score is an attempt to measure probability within a murky legal landscape, and as such should not be taken as a guide to legal action. Where there is binding, on-point law on the subject, that law controls.

Binding, on-point law

Binding, on-point law, either in the form of a statute or court decision, is definitive law that directly addresses the copyright status of government documents in that state. Where binding, on-point law exists, it is "the law of the land," and any additional information is supplementary.

Advisory sources

Advisory sources most often take the form of state attorney general opinions or advisory opinions from an officially established advisory council. These opinions are usually persuasive, rather than binding, and are seen as authoritative statements of what the advisory body believes to be the correct interpretation of the law. They do not have the force of law, and can be overruled by a court, but are often a useful source of guidance when the law is unclear.

Public records law

Every state in which a court has examined this issue has done so by interpreting the state's public records law (see Florida (Microdecisions, Inc. v. Skinner, 889 So. 2d 871 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004)), California (County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court, 89 Cal. Rptr. 374 (Cal. Ct. App. 2009)), New York (City of New York v. Geodata Plus, LLC, 537 F. Supp. 2d 443 (E.D.N.Y. 2007)), and South Carolina (Seago v. Horry County, 663 S.E.2d 38 (S.C. 2008))). Because of that, we've tried to provide some basic information about the public records law in each state: where the statute is and how long it's been around, any overt relationship to copyright in the statute, and whether it restricts the allowable uses of a record once it's been requested. In particular, if a state restricts the use of the record after it's been received, it's more likely that they are assuming that they retain the rights to it.

Specifics and examples

Specifics and examples are provided to show what the state actually does with its documents. Many states have statutes that authorize a particular government entity to copyright their work, and those appear here, along with any indication of the copyright status of a particular type of document from other sources of state law. Additionally, if documents or agencies have a particularly clear statement of their stance on their copyright interests, we've included it here. Please note, however, that the examples are neither comprehensive nor necessarily up-to-date: check with specific state entities to determine the status of their records.

Additional things to consider

This section of the website contains anything we found relevant which didn't fit elsewhere. Some things you might find here include:

Policy statements from state libraries or archives – most state government documents eventually make their way to a state archives, making state archivists frequently very familiar with these issues. If a state archive or library has clearly stated their interpretation of the copyright status of documents in their collection, we've tried to identify it here.

Legal statements about the physical ownership of government documents or records – many states have instances in their law where they refer to records as "property of the state," and many additionally have laws which govern the physical custody of records and prohibit their unauthorized use, transfer, or destruction. These laws, however, do not differentiate between the physical ownership of the records and the intellectual property right in their contents. It is entirely possible that the state could own and restrict the usage of the physical copies of these records (and have very good reasons for doing so, such as ensuring the continued preservation of the records) while also placing the contents of the records in the public domain. A statement that a record is the "property of the state," therefore, while suggestive, is not dispositive of its copyright status.

General Resources

Ashley Messenger, Dennis Pitman, Can States Use Copyright to Restrict the Use of Public Records? Comm. Law (February 2013).

Sharon Sandeen, Preserving the Public Trust in State-Owned Intellectual Property: A Recommendation for Legislative Action, 32 McGeorge L. Rev. 385 (2001).

Harold L. Cross, The People's Right to Know: Legal Access to Public Records and Proceedings (1953).

Margaret T. Lane, Selecting and Organizing State Government Publications (1987).

Marvin J. Nodiff, Copyrightability of Works of the Federal and State Governments Under the 1976 Act, 29 St. Louis U. L.J. 91 (1984).

John A. Kidwell, Open Records Laws and Copyright, 1989 Wis. L. Rev. 1021 (1989).

Robert M. Gellman, Twin Evils: Government Copyright and Copyright-Like Controls over Government Information, 45 Syracuse L. Rev. 999 (1995).

Content-specific reviews:

Lawrence A. Cunningham, Private Standards in Public Law: Copyright, Lawmaking and the Case of Accounting, 104 Mich. L. Rev. 291, 292 (2005).

Stanley F. Birch, Copyright Protection For Attorney Work Product: Practical And Ethical Considerations, 10 J. Intell. Prop. L. 255 (2003).

David S. Levitt, Copyright Protection for United States Government Computer Programs, 40 IDEA 225 (2000).

Andrea Simon, A Constitutional Analysis of Copyrighting Government-Commissioned Work, 84 Colum. L. Rev. 425 (1984).

Shannon E. Martin & Jessica Brophy, Industries' Proprietary Information and the Freedom of Access to State-Held Information: A Review of the Law and Its Implications for Special Interest Businesses, 58 S.C. L. Rev. 831, 832 (2007).

Robert K. Huffman, Lynda T. O'Sullivan, Uncharted Waters: State Contracting Terms and Conditions, Intellectual Property, and the Homeland Security Era, 33 Pub. Cont. L.J. 163, 164 (2003).

Edward A. Pisacreta & Jonathan P. Mollod, Licensing and Commercialization Issues for Geographic Data, 45 Les Nouvelles 1 (2010).

Primary Law Materials:

Deborah Tussey, Owning the Law: Intellectual Property Rights in Primary Law, 9 Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 173, 174 (1998).

L. Ray Patterson Craig Joyce, Monopolizing the Law: The Scope of Copyright Protection for Law Reports and Statutory Compilations, 36 UCLA L. Rev. 719 (1989).

Ann Bartow, Open Access, Law, Knowledge, Copyrights, Dominance and Subordination, 10 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 869 (2006).

Irina Y. Dmitrieva, State Ownership of Copyrights in Primary Law Materials, 23 Hastings Comm. & Ent L.J. 81, 82 (2000).

Jessica C. Tones, Copyright Monopoly vs. Public Access-Why the Law Should Not Be in Private Hands, 55 Syracuse L. Rev. 371, 372 (2005).

Katie Fortney, Ending Copyright Claims in State Primary Legal Materials: Toward an Open Source Legal System, 102 Law Libr. J. 59 (2010).

Carl Malamud, Public.Resource.Org, available at

Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. 591, 8 L. Ed. 1055 (1834).

Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244, 9 S.Ct. 36, 32 L.Ed. 425 (1888).

Nash v. Lathrop, 142 Mass. 29, 6 N.E. 559 (1886).

Davidson v. Wheelock, 27 F. 61, 62 (D.Minn. 1886).

Howell v. Miller, 91 F. 129, 137 (6th Cir. 1898).

Harrison Co. v. Code Revision Commission, 244 Ga. 325, 260 S.E.2d 30, 34 (1979); State of Ga. v. The Harrison Co., 548 F.Supp. 110, 114–15 (N.D.Ga.1982), vacated per stipulation, 559 F.Supp. 37 (N.D.Ga. 1983).

Building Officials and Code Adm. v.Code Technology, Inc., 628 F.2d 730 (1st Cir. 1980).

Veeck v. S. Bldg. Code Cong. Int'l, Inc., 293 F.3d 791, 796 (5th Cir. 2002).

Public Records Laws Generally:

National Association of Counties, Open Records Laws: A State by State Report (2010), available at

John Bender, Solid-Gold Photocopies: A Review of Fees for Copies of Public Records Established Under State Open Records Laws, 29 Urb. Law. 81 (1997).

Henry H. Perritt, Jr., Sources of Rights to Access Public Information, 4 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 179 (1995).

Robert M. Gellman, Twin Evils: Government Copyright and Copyright-Like Controls over Government Information, 45 Syracuse L. Rev. 999 (1995).

McBurney v. Young, 133 S. Ct. 1709, 185 L. Ed. 2d 758 (U.S. 2013).