AlexaDev Tuesday: Proving Alexa Skill Content Is Public Domain

Many Alexa skill developers want to use Public Domain content, which is free from copyright, to avoid paying licensing fees (on skills they’re not getting paid to produce, after all). Proving Alexa skill content is Public Domain to the certification test team can be a challenge, but just adding some key details to your skill description and test instructions can nip this problem in the bud.


Why Don't You Prove It


The Test Team Are Sticklers
Let me state right up front: I am not a lawyer, and nothing in this post should be construed or relied upon as legal advice. I also must warn the reader that this post deals only with issues of intellectual property rights management in the U.S., I can’t speak to how such matters are handled in other countries. With that out of the way…

The test team’s pickiness when it comes to copyright and intellectual property rights is all about protecting Amazon from unscrupulous or ignorant developers who might expose Amazon to legal action from rights holders. Amazon is fighting a daily battle against intellectual property theft issues in their Kindle ecosystem, and will always err on the side of caution in such matters. This puts the onus on the developer to proactively convince the test team that Public Domain content used in their skills really did come from the Public Domain.



The Two Key References To Provide
I recently got a copyright cert fail on my Cartoon Player skill, which offers a kind of cartoon jukebox for the Echo Show and includes only Public Domain cartoons. I had explicitly stated in the test instructions and skill description that all cartoons used are Public Domain, yet the team was citing me for copyright infringement. I had to provide them with support for my Public Domain claim from an entity or in a form they would trust. Luckily, I had the United States Library of Congress in my corner on this one.

Below, I’ve boldfaced the two pieces of information I added in my test instructions and skill description to get the skill certified:

Designed especially for Echo Show, Cartoon Player gathers a collection of 17 family-friendly, classic cartoons from the public domain collection at, a US Library of Congress cited source for Public Domain footage, and makes them available to play on your Echo Show’s screen.

In the case of the test directions, I also included a link to the Library of Congress page where the citation can be found.

So the two key references are:

1. A trusted entity.
This could be a government agency, or links to online legal documents (in which case the trusted entity is the United States legal justice system). Alternatively, in cases of creative commons content that’s not in the Public Domain but has been released for both non-commercial and commercial use, you can include a link to the page where the content is offered for use by the public and clearly labeled with the correct Creative Commons legend. In that case, it’s the rights owner him- or herself that serves as the trusted entity. It’s very important that the license specifically allows commercial use in the case of skills in categories that can earn money for the developer, because that makes the use commercial.

2. The source of the content: where did you get it?
The only way the test team can verify your claim is by going to the source of the content in question. I suspect that unless they receive a complaint they’re only going to do a cursory review of the site or page you reference, but make sure it’s fully legitimate. If anyone comes forward to challenge your claim in the future, even if their challenge is totally without merit, you must be able to prove the source of the content AND that the rights status of the content is clearly indicated.


Public Domain content is a great content resource for skill developers, and proving its legality for purposes of skill certification can be pretty straightforward.