Freesteel Blog » The Public Domain of the United Nations

The Public Domain of the United Nations

Thursday, February 14th, 2008 at 8:34 am Written by:

Have refrained from doing Wikipedia and UN for a while. Last night I accidentally got onto it and have just lost several hours.

I was pleased to find something which sorts out the rather stringent and obviously counter-productive all rights reserved copyright issue regarding the United Nations documents. It was found in Template:PD-UN, which refers to Administrative Instruction ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2 on wikisource.

I immediately scraped it into ST-AI-189-Add.9-Rev.2 on undemocracy so you can see it in its full shambolic reproduction.

I don’t know what geniuses found out about it or transcribed it. Actually I do; they are credited in the history page in wikisource, although it doesn’t explain it.

JesseW wrote the comment: “(clarify status of this instruction — /Add.2 extended it without a expiration date, and I just checked that it’s in force in the most recent (2007) index.)”

So I scraped ST-AI-189-Add.9-Rev.2-Add.2 into undemocracy.

Now you wouldn’t have thought that a recursively extended and obscurely labeled document would be of any importance a few years on, but this one is, because back in 1985 the Revision 2 of Addendum 9 on the 189th Administrative Instruction by the Secretariat said:

The present instruction revises, on an experimental basis until the end of 1989, the Organization’s policy towards copyrighting as set forth in administrative instruction ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.1 of 26 March 1985.

1/ That policy was, in essence, not to seek copyright with the intention of thus facilitating dissemination as widely as possible of the ideas in United Nations publications. However, numerous exceptions to that policy were made over the years as it became clear that there was a need to retain control over certain United Nations materials to ensure that they were used in the best interests of the Organization, or to protect the revenues that might accrue from sales publications and that would be adversely affected by unauthorized, competitive commercial publication.

2. The following categories of material will, as at present, be left in the public domain, i.e., the United Nations will not seek copyright therefor unless, prior to issue and in exceptional circumstances, the Publications Board decides otherwise, in consultation with the Office of Legal Affairs.

(a) Official Records: a series of printed publications relating to the proceedings of organs or conferences of the United Nations. They include verbatim or summary records, documents or check-lists of documents, issued in the form of annexes to those records, including periodic supplements, such as the quarterly ones of the Security Council; and reports to those organs of their subordinate or affiliated bodies, compilations of resolutions, certain reports of the Secretary-General and other selected publications, which are issued in the form of supplements;

(b) United Nations documents: written material officially issued under a United Nations document symbol, regardless of the form of production, although, in practice, the term is applied mainly to material offset from typescript and issued under a masthead. The term also applies to written material issued simultaneously or sequentially in the form of documents and publications;

(c) Public information material: publications, periodicals, brochures, pamphlets, press releases, flyers, catalogues and other materials designed primarily to inform about United Nations activities. For the purposes of this instruction the term does not include public information that is offered for sale, which may be subject to copyright registration.

There follows a lot of details of the procedures to keep something in copyright if you absolutely have to.

Well, that’s sorted it out at least, up until 1989. However, as JesseW noticed, Addendum 2 of Revision 2 on Addendum 9 etc (known as ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2/Add.2) says:

There is a general consensus that the revised copyright policy has had a positive impact and yielded the desired result of enhancing the control the Organization retains over the use of its intellectual property to ensure that it is used in the best interests of the United Nations and to protect the revenues that might accrue from sales and external publications. However, it is apparent that greater efforts are required by author departments at all duty stations to adhere to and apply uniformly the copyright policy and procedures announced in ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2. It is equally apparent that issues pertaining to the copyright of designs originating within the Organization as well as the copyrightability and possible revisions to the guidelines set out in administrative instruction ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2. The purpose of the present instruction is to extend the experimental period until these issues have been resolved in a further revision to that instruction.

I scraped for both ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.2/Add.3 and ST/AI/189/Add.9/Rev.3 and neither exist, so I guess he may be right in that we are still, 20 years later, experiencing the experimental period.

I think that all of life is an experimental period, so it’s good to hear that someone else sees it that way too.


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