Free maps?

Wikipedia treats the works of US federal government employees as public domain. ( ). Would this apply to Maps created by the Army Corps of Engineers? Because I found a whole set of maps for Scandinavia which would make drawing and naming all those lakes in Sweden much easier. ( ) Are these maps a legal source for Openstreetmap?


As nobody dared to answer. I now believe the maps are not free, since they are based o data NOT created by American Government Employees, but by brave Swedish surveyors. I guess we have to wait for a few more years (~70) for this maps to be definitely free.

Patience. It helps to look at what map you are referring to as each map has some slightly different data. Based on data at the bottom of several of the maps (which lists the specific sources of the map data), the information here is based on original aerial reconnaissance surveys performed during World War II and the early days of the Cold War, and on some Swedish sources that all date from prior to 1950 (for at least most of the maps that I’ve checked). The only real fly in the ointment is a reference to some British Admiralty navigation charts… which technically may have indefinite copyright (the 70 years rule doesn’t apply).

At least as far as these particular maps are concerned, the map itself doesn’t have a copyright as they are works of U.S. government employees, but the sources used to compile these maps may not be so pure and may have used copyrighted sources as a derived work. As the purpose of these maps were for possible use by military units of the U.S. armed forces, little details like copyright purity certainly wasn’t a major concern and getting the information correct was instead the most important detail.

Since these maps have been published almost 60 years ago, on this criteria alone they are technically close to entering the public domain strictly on the basis of having the copyright expire. Formal copyright registration was required for content at the time (copyright was not automatic and had to be requested) in the USA even the source data may be technically in the public domain… but this does get into the fine details of copyright law where some but not all items have entered the public domain due to age.

As to how this applies to somebody not in the USA in terms of copyright… it is right on the edge of being in the public domain anyway. Several of the sources listed have dates before 1940, so the 70+ year rule may apply even outside the USA. In other words, these maps may even be good to use for OSM as something with expired copyright, but it may take a bit more investigation to confirm that, and knowledge of the copyright laws for where you live. It may be a legal source for OSM work, but it is wise to hesitate on this one.

The problem is 70 years in German jurisdiction means 70 years pma (after death of author). IANAL.

I am suggesting that the data sources (listed on the maps on the bottom) may be out of copyright… and this map may be out of copyright as well. I’m not sure if German law recognizes “work for hire” principles, but the Berne Convention typically assumes such works (these maps are works for hire) to be 70 years from the date of creation.

It is precisely this kind of mess that I happen to hate this life+70 years stuff, as it can be a pain to even identify who is the "author", much less get a copyright date nailed down to know when the content is in the public domain. Content like this ought to be in the public domain, and to assume a 180 year copyright term (assuming 110 years of somebody's life to make sure they are good and dead + 70 additional years) is borderline insane.

BTW, there is a movement to increase this to life+110 years with the Berne Convention by several content publishers.

All this aside, I am suggesting that these maps may be in the public domain… including in places like Germany. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer that suggest they definitely are. That is the real problem here. Assuming the original map maker died in World War II (a definite possibility based on some of the data sources listed) the life+70 years could have possibly expired already. This is certainly right on the cusp of what would be considered public domain due to age.