Government Records

@ 2001 Cath Trindle – Published in the CSGA newsletter – Vol 19 #5 May 2001. Permission to copy this page is granted with inclusion of this permission notice.

Myth – Any record originally produced or ever published by a government body is in the public domain and may be copied, published or posted on the internet at will.


  • You can copy Federal Records that are in the public domain and use them in a published form. However, indexes and extractions of those records that are created by private parties are not considered public domain. Indexing and extracting take creative effort and are fully covered under US copyright law. Artistic renderings of public domain documents are also covered under copyright law. Only the original documents themselves can be freely copied.
  • State, local and foreign government records may not be in the public domain. You need to check the laws of a specific government entity to see if you have the right to publish their records without permission.
  • A U.S. Government printed document may contain items that are covered under copyright law. Any portion that was created by a private party, not in the employ of the government, might well be covered by US copyright law.

In most cases Fair Use Rules would allow an individual to copy a small portion of an index or extraction and use it in a publication as long as it is fully documented. This might include one will extraction from a book of hundreds. Fair Use Rules would never allow an entire index or extraction to be copied and republished in any form. This includes posting on the web.



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