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Copyright is a policy page used on OpenCongress. Policies are determined by the OpenCongress staff editors in consultation with volunteer "sysop"-level editors. All users are expected to abide by policies.

About OpenCongress

The goal of OpenCongress is to create information that is available to everyone. The realities of modern copyright law demand that we pay attention to legal issues to ensure that our work can be made available, and to protect the project from legal liability.

Original text of OpenCongress entries is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike (CC-by-SA). The full text of this license is here. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify the text of all OpenCongress entries under the terms of the CC-Attribution-Share Alike License, Version 3.0 or any later version published by the Creative Commons.

Essentially, this means that the entries will remain free forever and can be used by anybody subject to restrictions mentioned below, which serve to ensure that freedom.

Occasionally, OpenCongress entries may include text, images, sounds, or other material from external sources with different copyright terms, and which is used with permission or under "fair use" doctrine. In this case, the material will be identified as from an external source (on the image description page, history page, or talk page as appropriate) and copyright holders of that material retain their rights. It is preferred that only images and sounds be used in this way; text used with permission should be replaced with original text if at all possible.


Contributors' rights and obligations

If you contribute material to OpenCongress, you thereby license it to the public under the CC-by-SA license (with no invariant sections, front-cover texts, or back-cover texts). In order to contribute, you therefore must be in a position to grant this license, which means that either

  • you own the copyright to the material, for instance because you produced it yourself, or
  • you acquired the material from a source which allows the licensing under CC-by-SA license, for instance because the material is in the public domain or is itself published under Creative Commons.

In the first case, you retain copyright to your materials. You can later republish and re-license them in any way you like. However, you can never retract the CC-by-SA license for the versions you placed here: that material will remain under Creative Commons forever. In the second case, if you incorporate external Creative Commons materials, you need to acknowledge the authorship on the history page or talk page and provide a link back to the network location of the original copy. If the original copy required invariant sections, you have to incorporate those into the OpenCongress article; but as with texts used with permission, Creative Commons texts with invariant sections should be replaced with original or more freely licensed text whenever possible.

If you use part of a copyrighted work under "fair use", or if you obtain special permission to use a copyrighted work from the copyright holder, you must note that fact (along with names and dates) on the description page of the image or in the history page or talk page of the article, or the image description page. It is our goal to be able to freely redistribute as much of OpenCongress's material as possible, so original material licensed under Creative Commons is greatly preferred to copyrighted material (even used with permission) for our purposes.

Never use materials that infringe the copyrights of others. This could create legal liabilities and seriously hurt the project. If in doubt, write it yourself.

Note that copyright law governs the creative expression of ideas, not the ideas or information themselves. Therefore, it is perfectly legal to read an encyclopedia article or other work, reformulate it in your own words, and submit it to OpenCongress. (See plagiarism and fair use for discussions of how much reformulation is necessary in a general context.)

Users' rights and obligations

If you want to use OpenCongress materials in your own books/articles/web sites or other publications, you can do so, but you have to follow the CC-by-SA License, which entails the following:

  • your materials in turn have to be licensed under Creative Commons,
  • you must acknowledge the authorship of the article, and
  • you must provide access to the "transparent copy" of the material. (The "transparent copy" of an OpenCongress article is its wiki text.) These two obligations can be fulfilled by providing a conspicuous link back to the home of the article here at

If the OpenCongress article you wish to use contains text, images, sounds, or other material from external sources used with permission or under fair use, you must comply with the separate copyright terms for that material as well. For example, if we include an image under fair use, you must ensure that your use of the article also qualifies for fair use (this might not be the case, for example, if you were using a OpenCongress article for a commercial use that would otherwise be allowed by the CC-by-SA License).

If you find a copyright infringement

It is not the job of rank-and-file OpenCongress users to police every article for possible copyright infringement, but if you suspect one, you should at the very least bring up the issue on that page's talk page (make sure to tag the note in the "summary" field as a copyright issue to help other users and administrators). If there is no response, alert the appropriate editor. The most helpful piece of information you can provide is a URL or other reference to what you believe is the source of the text.

Some cases will be false alarms. For example, if the contributor was in fact the author of the text which is published elsewhere under different terms, that does not affect his right to post it here under the CC-by-SA License. Also, sometimes you will find text elsewhere on the web that was copied from OpenCongress. In both of these cases, it is a good idea to make a note in the talk page to discourage such false alarms in the future.

If a page really is an infringement, or if an appropriate challenge has been made regarding copyright ownership, then an editor or sysop will delete the infringing content and make a note to that effect in the talk page, along with the original source. A contributor may challenge any claim of copyright asserted by another individual. Such a challenge may lead to restoration of the text. If the author's permission is obtained later, the text can also be restored.

In extreme cases of contributors repeatedly posting copyrighted material, such users will have their accounts terminated to comply with applicable law and to protect the project. See the editorial policy for information on how OpenCongress editors and sysops apply this and other policies.

Frequently asked questions

Can I mirror entire sections of OpenCongress to my site? (Perhaps edited a bit) How much can I quote?

You may mirror or quote as much as you wish, as long as you maintain the text under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Don't do this if you're writing a paper for school, though!

If I link a word from my site to OpenCongress, am I required to use the CC-by-SA License for my site? What if I use a small quote (3-4 sentences)? What if I quote entire articles?

The answer to the first two is "no", since it is covered by the fair use doctrine. For the third, check with your lawyer.

How do I cite an OpenCongress article in a paper?

Cite it as you would any other web page, including the full URL to the article, in accordance with the normal citation practice the publication you are submitting the paper to follows. It would be a good idea to also include the date of the article revision you are quoting (for the current revision this is shown at the bottom of the page: "The page was last modified .."), and possibly the date you viewed it on. Citing the individual authors is not necessary.