Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How does the government maximise information distribution while minimising copyright risk?

It has always struck me as a little contradictory that while one of the government's primary goals is to build citizen awareness of various services, issues, initiatives and opportunities, at the same time many government communications and publications (than need to be) are protected under rigid copyright disclaimers.

I've even seen situations where government agencies require that organisations formally request permission before linking to their websites, although this is almost totally unenforceable and contrary to one of the primary reasons for using the internet.

These copyright disclaimers and reuse permission processes were designed for a useful purpose, to stop the misuse, misrepresentation or reselling of government material.

This is fair enough. However in many cases the copyright restrictions go so far (all rights reserved) as to work against government communications objectives, making dissemination of government information more difficult, costly, slower and less effective.

Who loses out? The public.

Who benefits? I'm not sure anyone does.

Do legitimate approaches exist to protect government interests but still allow appropriate reuse of information?
At least one does, Creative Commons licensing.

This issue of how do organisations and individuals allow selected but not universal reuse of content is not unique to government. It matured in the open source software area, with a solution devised by the Free Software Foundation named GNU General Public License.

This license was specifically developed for software, but prompted the creation of a similar licensing arrangement in 2002 for other creative works such as websites, audio, video and print publications named Creative Commons. Creative Commons is now in use in 43 countries around the world (and growing), including Australia, to allow selective reuse of otherwise copyright-protected content.

What is Creative Commons licensing?
Creative Commons is a flexible form of copyright designed for the evolving copyright needs of the modern world.

It allows a copyright holder to retain some of their rights, while permitting greater latitude for others to redistribute, extend and reuse licensed material in ways permitted by the holder.

Six main types of Creative Commons licenses exist, depending on the level of control desired by the copyright holder (with a seventh type permitting totally open access). Licenses are country specific and a new version of these licenses for Australia recently completed consultation and is in draft.

Has Creative Commons been considered by the Australian government?
It has been discussed by government over a number of years - and adopted in Queensland.

For example it states in the Stanley Declaration, 13 July 2007, Australian National Summit on Open Access to Public Sector Information,
"The adoption and implementation by governments of an open access policy to public sector information (PSI) will ensure the greatest public benefit is derived from the increased use of information created, collected, maintained, used, shared, and disseminated by and for all governments in Australia."
More recently it was recommended in the Federal Government's VenturousAustralia report Review of the National Australian Innovation System released by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (Recommendation 7.8) that,
"Australian governments should adopt international standards of open publishing as far as possible. Material released for public information by Australian governments should be released under a creative commons licence."
This was also commented on by the Minister, Senator Carr, in what others have termed a fairly strong endorsement.
"We are and will remain a net importer of knowledge, so it is in our interest to promote the freest possible flow of information domestically and globally.

The arguments for stepping out first on open access are the same as the arguments for stepping out first on emissions trading – the more willing we are to show leadership on this, we more chance we have of persuading other countries to reciprocate.

And if we want the rest of the world to act, we have to do our bit at home."

Where can Creative Commons copyright licenses be used on government products?
While the Queensland government has permitted use of Creative Commons Licensing for several years under the Queensland Information Licensing Framework, other jurisdictions are not as advanced.

Victoria is considering Creative Commons in the Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data, but this will not report back until 30 June 2009.

AGIMO is apparently looking at the national framework, though I have no information on their timeline or prioritisation of this work.

I am not aware of the situation in other jurisdictions - can anyone tell me?


  1. As a consultant, the situation is equally strange. Despite the projects being paid for by public money, government agencies ask for the tightest control over IP of any organisation we deal with.

    Ask for shared IP, and they have a fit! (That being said, once sensible requirements are outlined, the legal people normally relax enough to work out an arrangement.)

    Most strange.

  2. Graig,

    great post - creative commons is near and dear to my heart when it comes to the data holdings of state and federal governments. I see a couple of issues that are really holding up while scale adoption - the first is the same idea that James mentions - the idea that publicly funded data should be free to the public - take for instance the mapping data generated by the states - then acquired by PSMA and onsold back to federal agencies and everyone else - thats right the govt bought data from itself? the model is seems like it could be streamlined dramatically. Which leads to the second idea that the current federation model is really unworkable when it comes to data - especially spatial data.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Bookmark and Share