Copyright Questions When Using Images From World Wind

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[edit] General guidelines

Most data in World Wind is public domain and can be freely redistributed, although crediting World Wind and the data provider is encouraged.

Some exceptions are listed below -

  • Zoomit! (various data from several countries) - Some data may have restrictions, see the Zoomit! page for more information.

[edit] More information

This will be expanded as more information is gathered. It is primarily from this thread:

Similar threads:

Matt Fox:

Any copyright experts in here?

I understand the images used by WW are public domain, created by the US Government so there are little or no restrictions on their use. However, what happens if someone takes the images obtained from the original government source, modifies them slightly (such as changing them to a different projection) and then sells them in digital form at a website. Would the modified images then be subject to copyright?

I searched all over the internet and couldn't find an answer to this one. I guess it depends on whether or not making a minor change such as reprojecting an image would make the new image a "derivative work". But a derivative work creator must get permission from the original creator, so do they still need such permission if the original work is public domain??



Hi Matt,

If the original work is in the public domain, the creator doesn't have any exclusive rights to the work. So you can do anything with it that you like, including modifying it and selling the modification. The derived work is copyrightable if it's an "original work of authorship," which, as you might imagine, is subject to interpretation.

For more on derivative works, see Circular 14 and 17 U.S.C. §§ 101, 103. For more on public domain status, there's 17 U.S.C. § 105; Sec. 12 of the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988; and "Where is the Public Domain?".

I should also add that courts in the U.S. and courts in other countries likely apply different standards for what constitutes a derivative work, and that it's better to turn to the Berne Convention for guidance outside the U.S.



And as a general truth: Most data outside the US is, in no way free, except for niche projects, with restrictions on redistribution or are a out of the ordinary, nation wide initiative. If anyone tells you there is free data in the EU, they are probably misinformed or hell has just froze over.

Click for a PDF on the state of geo data in the EU

Example of the wrangling in the UK over the Ordnance Survey Data

Campaign to open geodata in EU

  • Notable exceptions we have found:
    • Canada
    • South Africa
    • New York State
    • (Please feel free to add more)

In response

For some background on originality in the US, and how this is a bit different from in Europe see:

Feist_Publications_v._Rural_Telephone_Service (the EU implemented Database rights which push the opposite direction) and


But this doesn't stop corporations from trying to bend these rules and pretending they don't exist,(when in their interest) and also playing FUD on when they apply. See google on public domain images and books.

Fallowing the precedent set by Feist v Rural, it is quite plausible that Satellite images are not copyrightable as raw images. Many other things required to bring them to users may be, such as: the file format they are stored as, the organization in some database, the way in which they are distributed, the methods of removing blemishes and creating a consistent end product, etc, etc, etc. Meanwhile, providers are going to try to tye you up is agreements and proprietary systems so that is is very hard to copy just the raw data and then defend against the legal battle. It would be quite a win for the public if a precedent of ineligibility to copyright for raw spacial data was established in the US.

[edit] Data Sources

Here is a list of World Wind's Data Sources.

[edit] Public Domain

I have another question on copyright. In the US, work by the government is "by default" in the public domain (of the US):

In other countries, e.g. such as Germany, it is not possible that the author gives up his rights completely, so such a clause is "void by law". He may, however, permit usage of the work without fee or conditions, but this has to be stated explicitly. In any case, the work is owned by the author and protected until 70 years after the death of the author. This is also true for work which is "public domain" (or under other "incompatible" license) in other countries and causes controversial discussions on how to use "US public domain" work (e.g. images) in the German wikipedia. People reported that the US government could enforce their rights in other countries. No matter how probable this may be, it would be good to have a clear statement here (e.g. if you want to use an image in a book (PhD thesis), which is printed in Germany, you must prove you have permission):

Does World Wind Central give anyone in any country the right to use and modify the data for any purpose without conditions ? ("idea of public domain")


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