Creative commons in U.S. Government

I am a big advocate of creative commons. I think it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. One arena I have been watching the growing use of Creative Commons licenses is in the U.S. Government. I am particularly interested in the issue of over licensing. That is, my understanding is that the Federal government can not be a copyright holder unless someone else created the work and then gave the work to the US Government, and that items (creative works and intellectual property) created by the government can not be copyrighted, such content is by law supposed to be in the public domain. Therefore, when a government (in this case the U.S. Government) produces content and licenses the content under creative commons, doesn't that mean that they must copyright the material and then release the material under license? The following website talks about data - government data, and how that is legally supposed to be open. (And Ben Balter gives some really clear suggestions here: There are certain rights reserved, like the use of logos. In short I am a bit confused then by moves in the Department of Labor and the Department of Education where the CC-BY license is adapted:

Is this just saying that if I create something with money from the Federal Government then that work needs to also be CC-BY?

The Creative Commons wiki currently says about the US Government:


Works by the US federal government are automatically part of the public domain in the US as stipulated by
Third-party content (such as the text of speeches by the first lady) on the White House web site are licensed with CC BY 3.0 US by default.
President-Elect Transition Team, Barack Obama and Joseph Biden. CC BY 3.0 Unported. (Not an official federal government site, but an election team site, hence not required to be public domain.)
The U.S. Department of Education has made OER an invitational priority in their Ready to Learn (PDF) and Ready to Teach (PDF) grants.
The U.S. Department of Education has included open educational resources in their Notice of Proposed Priorities for discretionary grant funding. Essentially, if the priorities are adopted, it could mean that grant seekers who include open educational resources as a component of an application for funding from the Department of Education could receive priority.
The U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Education commit $2 billion to community colleges and career training; CC BY required for grant outputs.
The U.S. Department of Labor Career Pathways Innovation Fund Grants Program; CC BY required for grant outputs.
U.S. Open Data Action plan is under CC0 + some federal datasets: report (pdf); blog post


New York State Senate, Senate Content, CC-BY-NC-ND with CC+ allowing non-political fundraising use of content.
State of Virginia, legislation that indicates a preference for state-funded materials to be released with a CC (or equivalent open) license.
Washington State open policy and requirement of CC BY
New Hampshire adopts Open Source and Open Data requirements (policy friendly to CC use, but not a specific CC tool adoption)
OER K-12 bill passed in WA state. The focus of the bill is to help school districts identify existing high-quality, free, openly licensed, common core state standards aligned resources available for local adoption; in addition, any content built with public funds, must be licensed under “an attribution license” (CC BY)
The city of Washington, D.C. has made available an unofficial copy of the DC Code under the CC0 Public Domain Dedication.

So, as a business person looking at the limitations of CC-BY and the DMCA. If I were a grant recipient from the department of labor, and I wanted to profit from the output of the grant, I could make all the output CC-By and then release that content via an app that I sell. Make the app with funds not from the grant and make the content only available via the app. Hacking the app would constitute Copyright infringement and would be enforceable via the DMCA.

Creative Commons does not solve the open access and permanent access guarantee problems.

Which license and why?

It occurs to me that every time a new license is produced it is done as a response to a social context. That is, society has delivered a certain set of norms or reactions to existing ownership and licensing practices. It also occurs to me that with each new license created that there is an increased availability of licensing options to potential license users. Inherently this means that any given license should be expected to be used less with the release of a new licenses. I wonder if there is a way to plot the use of licenses, and the growth rate of new licenses.

Comment on Open Source development at NASA

A comment on:

I am all for OpenData and Open.NASA. But how does NASA being a government entity relate to how it “licenses” it’s data and software? What I mean is that, shouldn’t the things being “open sourced” be public domain, rather than licensed content? I agree that creating a license which is not widely recognized is not useful, that is the whole point behind Creative Commons. But are there cases where NASA is “over licensing” content that it shouldn’t because it is the content should be released into the public domain? Reference CC Salon in Jan 2011, Time segment 1:05:00 where Joi Ito talks about the issue.

What prevents, or what reasons are there for not putting NASA’s data and software, which it releases, in the public domain? Is that not more open?