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Impact of U.S. Copyright Act


The 1976 U.S. Copyright Act regulates how maps, historic photographs, architectural and engineering drawings, textual material, and other media which were created by an individual or an agency outside Heritage Documentation Programs (HDP) or the U.S. Government can be incorporated into HDP documentation as formal documentation. Although the act does not prohibit the use of these materials, it requires the HDP researcher to verify the copyright status of all materials to be included in documentation prior to final submission and, if necessary, secure a transfer (release and assignment) of copyright to the National Park Service. Without a release and assignment of copyright, materials cannot enter the HDP collection at the Library of Congress as formal documentation.


At the Library of Congress, HDP Documentation is in the public domain. Strictly speaking, "public domain" is "the realm embracing property rights belonging to the community at large, subject to appropriation by anyone, specifically, status unprotected by copyright or patent [or trademark]" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary). Materials enter the public domain when and only when:

  1. copyright protection for the work expires,
  2. copyright is abandoned by the copyright owner (i.e. transferred, or released and assigned), or
  3. copyright protection is forfeited by failure of the copyright owner to comply with the law.
Materials in the public domain also include:
  1. all materials published before January 1, 1923, and not renewed, and
  2. all materials entirely created, commissioned, and/or published by the U.S. Government, including materials produced by federal government employees in the course of their jobs. [Materials created or published by the U.S. Government in collaboration with a non-U.S. Governmental individual or agency may or may not be in the public domain. Materials fitting this category may require additional background research.]

A common misconception about copyright and the public domain is that anything old and/or unpublished is copyright-free.


When materials are donated to a documentation project by a second or third party or a sponsoring state agency, the legal transfer of copyright is not binding unless set down in writing, even if the materials in question are donated or voluntarily incorporated into a documentation project by the owners of the materials. State agencies, private corporations, and all other non-U.S. Government sponsors of HABS/HAER/HALS recording projects must transfer all rights to the materials under consideration to the National Park Service if they wish to have them included in the formal documentation. Copyright Release Form

Note: Contact the HABS/HAER/HALS Collections Manager at if you have any questions about copyright and HABS/HAER/HALS documentation. For more information on the 1976 Copyright Act as amended, consult the U.S. Copyright Office's website.