[Open-Legislation] Public domain US legal data and code

Timothy Vollmer tvol at creativecommons.org
Mon Oct 8 17:23:12 UTC 2012

On Fri, Oct 5, 2012 at 7:57 AM, Eric Mill <eric at sunlightfoundation.com>wrote:

> Hi all,
> I've been working for the last month or two with Josh Tauberer (of
> GovTrack.us <http://govtrack.us>) and Derek Willis on a project to
> produce a public domain scraper and dataset from THOMAS.gov<http://thomas.gov>,
> the official source for legislative information for the US Congress.
> It's a reasonably well documented set of Python scripts, which you can
> find here:
> https://github.com/unitedstates/congress
> We just hit a great milestone - it gets everything important that THOMAS
> has on bills, back to the year THOMAS starts (1973). We've published and
> documented <https://github.com/unitedstates/congress/wiki> all of this
> data in bulk, and I've worked it into Sunlight's pipeline, so that searches
> for bills in Scout<https://scout.sunlightfoundation.com/search/federal_bills/freedom%20of%20information>use data collected directly from this effort.
> The data and code are all hosted on Github on a "unitedstates<https://github.com/unitedstates/>"
> organization, which is right now co-owned by me, Josh, and Derek - the
> intent is to have this all exist in a common space. To the extent that the
> code needs a license at all, I'm using a public domain "unlicense<https://github.com/unitedstates/congress/blob/master/LICENSE>"
> that should at least be sufficient for the US (other suggestions welcome).

re: other suggestions

We've talked with some U.S. federal agencies about potentially using a tool
like the CC0 Public Domain Dedication [1] to indicate that the content/data
they release is in the public domain. However, CC0 is meant to be a
worldwide waiver of all copyright and related rights. Section 105 prohibits
the attachment of copyright under U.S. law, but doesn’t preclude a U.S.
government work from being protected by copyright under the laws of other
jurisdictions. [2] So, the work may only be in the public domain as a
practical matter within the United States; thus U.S. federal agencies have
been reluctant to adopt CC0 for content/data created under 105.

[1] http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

> There's other great stuff in this organization, too - Josh made an amazing
> donation of his legislator dataset<https://github.com/unitedstates/congress-legislators>,
> and converted it to YAML for easy reuse. I've worked that dataset into
> Sunlight's products already as well. I've also moved my legal citation
> extractor <https://github.com/unitedstates/citation> into this
> organization -- and my colleague Thom Neale has an in-progress parser for
> the US Code <https://github.com/unitedstates/uscode>, to convert it from
> binary typesetting codes into JSON.
> Github's organization structure actually makes possible a very neat
> commons. I'm hoping this model proves useful, both for us and for the
> public.
> -- Eric
> --
> Developer | sunlightfoundation.com
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Timothy Vollmer
phone = +016086982403 | skype = timothyvollmer | tw = @tvol
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