Friday, July 3, 2009

All Federal Works in the Public Domain (NOT!)

Dear Rich: Are all works created by the federal government or agents of the federal government automatically in the public domain? Specifically, when the Inauguration Committee commissioned John Williams to arrange "Air and Simple Gifts" is this new work automatically in the public domain and is the recorded inaugural performance also in the public domain?  The short answer to your question is that no, not all federal government works are in the public domain. Those created by federal employees and federal officers in the course of their duties are in the public domain; but contractors who create federal government works sometimes reserve copyright in their work. According to public domain expert Stephen Fishman, it all depends on what the government decides at the time the independent contractor is hired. If the government wants the work to be in the public domain, it can require it; otherwise, the contractor would own the work that's created. That seems to be the case with John Williams' Air and Simple Gifts which is owned by Williams' publisher  Warner-Tamerlane/Marjer Music Corp and can be licensed for reproduction from the Harry Fox Agency. You may also be interested to know that the underlying theme of the piece is borrowed from a shaker hymm, "Simple Gifts" (The Dear Rich Staff assumes that Williams contributed the "Air") "Simple Gifts" was also used by Aaron Copland in his Appalachian Spring. Okay everybody, have a safe Fourth of July. You don't want to have to call on the PI lawyers! (And has it really been a year since we posted this?)