Last month, the official White House photo stream on Flickr switched from a Creative Commons attribution license to a brand-new “U.S. Government Work license” that Flickr created specially for this photostream, but which probably applies to almost all photos contributed by the federal government.
Why create a brand-new “license”? Because works of the U.S. Government are not subject to copyright. The new “license,” in reality, is simply an acknowledgement that the work is part of the public domain.
You cannot keep what you do not have.
But there’s a small problem. In the description for each photo, the following text appears:
This official White House photograph is being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way or used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
That’s all well and good, except that no one has the right to impose those restrictions. The work is in the public domain. No one may restrict its use in any way. What happens is you use photographs from the official photostream in a way that violates the supposed “terms” imposed in the comments?
Not a darn thing.
Of course, if you use them to commit fraud or some other crime, there may be consequences for that. But otherwise, you’re free to use these photos in any way just as if you took them yourself. So find yourself a picture like the one I’ve got here… and enjoy.