October 14, 2012 by csukach
One area of U.S. copyright law that’s not as hotly contested is that of government works and public domain.
Section 105 of U.S. Code 17 states, “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.”
For military photographers working for the U.S. Air Force, that means any images captured on the job are public domain material and anyone can use those photos.
“It’s really amazing—the public domain is—because it’s all about sharing,” says photographer Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz. “It’s not about who’s getting paid.”
Boitz says he enjoys seeing his imagery used for other purposes like calendars and pamphlets.
“It doesn’t have to be a military photo,” Boitz explains. “It can be a beautiful photo. It can be a humanitarian photo. It can be something that really just shows something amazing happening. And it just so happens that I don’t get paid for it because it is a public domain photo, but seeing that it’s out there and it’s being used as something, that really is awesome.”
Even though Air Force photographers’ skills are their own, the products they create for the government with those skills are not.
“From the get-go, I think that whatever I shoot when I’m on duty with government stuff is not my personal property—it’s the property of the government,” says photographer Chief Master Sgt. John Zincone.
Still, with the increase of smaller, more portable and capable personal camera equipment, deciding which shots belong to the government and which are personal can become a blurrier question.
“If I’m in Afghanistan on a PRT and I’ve got my government camera with me but I’ve also got my [personal] iPhone camera with me and I shoot a couple with that, whose pictures are those—mine or the government’s?” asks Zincone rhetorically. “I mean, I’m only there because [the government] put me there. The fact that I used my camera versus the government camera—I would never be there if it wasn’t for doing that mission.”
Even though imagery shot by Air Force photographers is public domain, Boitz says it’s still nice to get recognized in a caption for his work.
“I really do enjoy seeing my name under there,” says Boitz. “I guess it gives me some sort of satisfaction that my name was tagged along with it, but really just seeing something captured and where it’s gone really is what makes it fun.”