Q&A: To What Extent and Under What Conditions Are Congressional Research Reports Official Documents? *


In a recent e-mail, someone from Canada asked asked how she could obtain an “official copy” of a Congressional Research Service report, “one from Congress,” not one from the website of an organization such as the Federation of American Scientists. The responses which follow are very interesting; they address a variety of related issues including the following: Are Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports that contain added designations such as watermarks, trademarks, or copyright notices official and are they in the public domain? Does the U.S. Government have any special rights to use copyrighted materials? and can CRS reports always be freely disseminated as government documents?


Official editions of the CRS reports can be ordered from Penny Hill Press, www.pennyhill.com :
The reports from www.pennyhill.com are often trademarked or watermarked with gallerypress.

This one at http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/44110.pdf is the same thing Congress see.
It’s my understanding that most – but not all – U.S.A. federal government publications – including this one – are in the public domain. Consequently, this report can be reproduced – or in this instance – reposted on non-federal government websites. If you need a copy of this report that originates from an U.S.A. federal government website, you can use any of these links:





See the CENDI* Frequently Asked Questions About Copyright.

5.1.1 Does the U.S. Government have any special rights to use copyrighted material?


Also see the CENDI White Paper: “Don’t Keep the Public Guessing – Best Practices in Notices of Terms and Conditions of Use For Government Website Content”

http://www.cendi.gov/publications/04-4website_policy.html “It is a commonly held belief that information published or sponsored by the U.S. Government or available from a U.S. government source, such as a government website, is in the public domain. However, a key finding in a 1999 Government Printing Office report is that “fifteen percent of the products surveyed are not in the public domain, for all or part of the product” (see, “Report on the Assessment of Electronic Government Information Products”. A look at authors and owners of government information suggests that the percentage may be greater and is likely increasing with government’s growing reliance on the private sector to conduct the business of government.”

NOTE: CENDI is an interagency working group of senior scientific and technical managers from 13 U.S. federal agencies. Its mission is to help improve productivity of federal science and technology programs through effective scientific, technical, and related information support sysems. From: CENDI website.

I posted this on law-lib a few weeks ago on a discussion of crs reports:

“CRS reports themselves do not have copyright restriction because they are government documents and can be freely disseminated”

And the CRS won’t admit it even though there is such a policy at http://www.cendi.gov/publications/04-8copyright.html#511

The article about the CRS reports in the Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/27/AR2005062701509.html mentioned that copyright infringement. …CRS has consistently said it is not designed to serve any sort of public information function. In past years, it has said that could create a number of ýlegal and practical problems, contending, for example, that interest groups ýand lobbyists would inundate its office with complaints and comments in hopes ýof influencing what CRS analysts wrote. It has also expressed fears that it could be held liable for what it said in the reports or be sued for copyright infringement…”

See from http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/2005/06/062805.html#2

Why aren’t non-confidential Congressional Research Service reports automatically made available to the public? At first glance, the policy appears to reflect institutional arrogance or reflexive secrecy on the part of CRS and the Congress. But there is more to it than that, congressional officials say. CRS repeatedly stresses that it works for Congress, and only for Congress. “CRS assists every Member and committee,” said Director Daniel P.Mulhollan in May 23 testimony before the House Appropriations Committee. “All of our work is confidential and focuses solely, directly, and specifically on the needs of the congressional community. CRS has no public mission.” By insisting on this point, CRS is distinguishing itself from the larger and higher-profile Government Accountability Office. More subtly, CRS is repudiating any comparison with the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which was dismantled by Congressional Republicans in 1995, an event that is seared in the consciousness of CRS officials. What CRS is saying is that it has no institutional agenda of its own aside from support to members of Congress, and that, unlike OTA, it takes no position on disputed policy matters.

CRS believes that its uniqueness as a congressional support agency, which constitutes its central claim to continued funding, would only be diluted by direct interactions with public consumers. “Over time, CRS products might come to be written with a large public audience in mind and could no longer be focused solely on congressional needs,” CRS Director Mulhollan said in a written statement yesterday. And the current congressional leadership apparently agrees. “CRS has received clear indication from its oversight committees that no change in the current policy is authorized,” Director Mulhollan wrote yesterday. “It is important to recognize that while the restriction on public access to CRS products is frequently characterized as CRS ‘resistance,’ the reality is that the policy is a congressional one,” he noted. In any case, “As CRS obtains no copyright in its products, little can be done to discourage the trend toward further public availability of CRS products brought about without the permission of a Member or committee.” A 1999 CRS memorandum outlined several reasons why it believed direct public access to CRS products would have unfavorable legal and institutional consequences. See “Congressional Policy Concerning the Distribution of CRS Written Products,” March 9, 1999: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/policy.html

* In deference to privacy and confidentiality concerns expressed by some readers, all references to personal names in the above responses have been deleted. That however does not detract in any way from our appreciation and gratitude to all who participated in the above discussion for their professionalism, dedication, and generosity of spirit.

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