This page provides information on the interaction between federal copyright law and the Data Practices Act. It also summarizes relevant advisory opinions by the Minnesota Attorney General and Commissioner of Administration.
What is protected by the Federal Copyright Act?
The Federal Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-810, (FCA) says that a copyright exists "in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression… from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device." Works include:
- Literary works
- Musical works, including any accompanying words
- Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- Pantomimes and choreographic works
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural works
What can’t be copyrighted?
There are several categories of items that are not eligible for copyright protection:
- Works that are not written down or recorded
- Names, short phrases, familiar symbols, lettering, coloring, or listing of ingredients
- Ideas, facts, principles, processes, or discoveries
- Works that are common property and contain no original work (standard calendars, tape measures, or rulers)
How do you get copyright protection?
Copyright is a unique concept of law because an author does not have to fill out a form or an application to get copyright protection—the protection automatically attaches as soon as the work is created. Once an author creates an “original work,” the author is granted exclusive rights to:
- Reproduce the work into copies
- Create any derivative works
- Distribute copies to the public by sale or lease
- Perform or display the work publicly
Because these rights are given to an author immediately, a work is still covered by copyright protection even if it does not have the © symbol.
How does the Federal Copyright Act interact with Minnesota's Data Practices Act?
The FCA prohibits the reproduction or distribution of copyrighted documents by anyone other than the copyright owner. In contrast, the Data Practices Act mandates that all data “collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated” by a government entity shall be available to the public to inspect or copy, unless there is a specific provision classifying the data as not public.
To reconcile these two laws, the government entity needs to determine if the copyrighted work is owned by the government entity or if the entity is just the holder of the copyrighted work.
There will be some instances when a government entity creates a document and wants to enforce its copyright. While federal agencies are not allowed to copyright documents, this does not apply to state or local government entities.
In some situations, a government entity receives a work that is copyrighted by a third-party. When a government entity is in possession of a copyrighted document, it must protect the work’s copyright, especially in relation to the Data Practices Act.