I recall there being a noticeboard somewhere where one could ask questions related to the copyright status of a work and get a reply from someone at WMF legal,1 but can’t seem to find it. Can someone point me in the right direction, or even better, answer the below question here if you’re able.
The UN isn’t great at clarifying the copyright status of the works it creates. The basis for making a claim that a UN work is in the public domain is ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2, but as the UN itself noted in 2016 (p. 21) that policy was created during the ‘paper-age’ and plenty of grey areas exist.
My problem concerns the copyright status of treaties. The treaty texts themselves are in the public domain according to the UN’s own FAQ, and presumably ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2 sec I(2)(a)–(b), but the UN FAQ goes on to say that ‘the online UN Treaty Collection is proprietary and cannot be reproduced, translated, distributed, sold or otherwise used without a prior written permission.’
The plain reading of this in my view, is that the UNTC database is proprietary and one cannot, say, mirror the whole thing, but it doesn’t clarify the copyright status of the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS), the print collection of treaties published by the UN, which is available in PDF format on the UNTC website.
The series itself pretty much consists only of the treaty texts, with minor editorial things like footnotes stating dates of deposit, references to other UN documents and so on. So going by the FAQ, and also ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2 sec I(2)(b) one could argue that the UNTS itself is public domain.
The problem is that another section of ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2, sec I(3), states that copyright protection will be sought for ‘recurrent publications’, which does suggest that the UNTS is copyright protected. Newer volumes of the UNTS, such as the ones from 2013, contain a ‘© all rights reserved’ copyright message, but it’s not unheard of that an organization will post a boilerplate copyright notice even though they have specific carveouts for that particular type of media, and older volumes, such as 610 (1967), don’t have a copyright notice.
tl;dr: Is the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) in the public domain by virtue of the UN’s own policies, or, if it is copyrighted, can the publication of a treaty text via a scan of the UNTS be justified since the treaty text itself is public domain and the additions in the UNTS are de minimis?
For context, the document I want to use a scan of is the UNTS print of the Outer Space Treaty.
Thanks in advance.
1. Hopefully I didn’t imagine it