FAQ for reproduction of RFCs
1. Who owns the copyright in RFCs?The general rule is that original authors retain
copyright unless they make an explicit transfer of their
rights. The IETF and the RFC Editor have never required
this. Hence the underlying copyright in RFCs remains
with the original authors (or their employers, if their
employment conditions so stipulate).
2. So what does the copyright statement in many RFCs mean?It means that the Internet Society originally owned the copyright
on behalf of the IETF in those parts of RFCs that are
the result of collective work, the standard material
("boilerplate") included in all RFCs, and the RFC numbering
series. Recently, as part of the IETF Adminisrative Support Activity
realignment, the Internet Society has formally transferred
its rights to the IETF Trust.
3. Where are the full rules?The IETF's rules on copyright issues are in BCP 78,
whose current version (as of June 2006) is RFC 3978.
4. Am I allowed to reproduce whole RFCs?Yes. Since the beginning of the RFC series, reproduction
of whole RFCs (including translation into a language other
than English) has been allowed and encouraged. The IETF Trust
and the RFC Editor place no restrictions on this. Most RFCs
include the standard phrase "Distribution of this memo is unlimited"
to indicate this.
5. Do I need to contact the authors?The policy just described is well known to RFC authors.
However, it is a matter of courtesy to contact them if
formal republication is planned (as opposed to usage
for educational purposes and the like). It has been known
for original authors to object to certain types of
6. Am I allowed to reproduce extracts from RFCs?It is common to use extracts from RFCs that are in
the form of computer code by incorporating them
in software. This is the only usage formally allowed
by the current IETF rules (RFC 3978).
Generally speaking the IETF Trust will tolerate fair use
of other extracts, but you must indicate the source of the
extract and you must mention the original copyright statement
7. Am I allowed to publish modified extracts from RFCs?It is acceptable under the current IETF rules (RFC 3978)
to modify extracted code if necessary.
Modification of other extracts requires the permission of the original
authors. The IETF Trust does not in general grant the right to
create derivative works of RFCs; in fact it does not have
the right to do so, under the current IETF rules (RFC 3978).
The IETF is currently discussing various possible
modifications of its rules to permit the publishing
of modified extracts in certain circumstances.
8. Why are RFCs copyrighted instead of open source?This is a complex issue, but an important part of the
reason is that the IETF historically wished to retain change
control of its technical specifications, unless it consciously
decides to hand it over to another standards body.
9. How can I put code from RFCs under an open source license?As of June 2006, we haven't found a legally perfect answer
to this question. However, the IETF Trust has no intention
of taking any action that will cause difficulty for open
source software containing code from RFCs.
10. Does this FAQ apply to every RFC?Not all RFCs originate in the IETF. A minority come from other
sources (the IAB, the IRTF, and independent submissions reviewed
directly by the RFC Editor). Also, numerous RFCs were published
prior to the existence of the IETF (i.e. prior to January 1986).
The IETF Trust cannot offer definitive advice in these cases.
If in doubt, please seek independent legal advice.