Crown Copyright Strikes Again: Documents Revealed Under Freedom Of Information Act Can Infringe On Copyright?

from the crown-copyright dept

Frankly, the concept of “Crown Copyright” has never made much sense at all. We’ve discussed it here a few times in the past, but it’s the concept that some countries have for government documents being covered by copyright. Thankfully, this is one area where the US actually leads the way: it has no such thing. Documents produced by the federal government in the US are automatically considered public domain (state government documents aren’t always public domain, but that’s another discussion for another time). But in many other countries that’s not true, and those documents are covered by “crown copyright.” This makes little sense no matter how you think about it. If the purpose of copyright is to give incentives to create the content, it seems obvious that a government should not need copyright.

Instead, it seems to show how some now view copyright: as a tool to restrict information, rather than as an incentive to create information. For example, Glyn Moody points us to a rather depressing discussion of how information obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request in the UK might not be publishable because of copyright. Yes, you read that right. Even though the laws are there to free up government information, once that information is distributed to the requestor, it can be locked back up via copyright. So it’s not really a “freedom of information” situation at all. It’s just a “here’s some information you can’t share with anyone else.”

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Comments on “Crown Copyright Strikes Again: Documents Revealed Under Freedom Of Information Act Can Infringe On Copyright?”

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Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes. I would note that, as much as I disagree with the concept of “crown copyright”, its presentation here is somewhat overstated.

It’s not a restriction on the sharing of information. As you have suggested, you can still report to others the contents of the document you have obtained, and even show the document to others to let them read it for themselves. Certainly discussion of the document is not prohibited by this concept. Copyright doesn’t protect ideas or “information”. It protects particular expressions of ideas and information.

Again, though, I agree that the concept of “crown copyright” doesn’t really make sense, and it is a good thing that the US has rejected the concept.


Anonymous Coward says:

Just a cautionary note lest people be mislead into thinking that the USG can never hold a copyright. Ignoring the very few exceptions (e.g., USPS), or when a copyright is transferred to the USG by assignment, bequest or devise, the reason “US Government Works” are deemed to be in the public domain is because the Copyright Act says so. In other words, if Congress were to amend the act and remove this section there would be no impediment under the act for the USG to claim a copyright.

Fentex says:

If the purpose of copyright is to give incentives to create the content

You should not be so ready to conflate U.S Constitutional provisions for copyright with other nations laws.

The U.S Constitution may make it clear the purpose of copyright in the U.S is to encourage the creation of useful arts, but as Crown Copyright does not exist in the U.S, neither does the U.S Constitution speak for other jurisdictions ambitions for copyright.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

As the article says the UK Central Government is about to release documents under a Creative Commons license so the fears of fees seem to be allayed, at least a bit.

In Canada the Crown Copyright lays with the Federal, Provincial and Territorial governments and the Queen’s Printer in each jurisdiction.

AFAIK, no one has ever been hauled into court for redistributing all or part of an FOI request result in Canada, quoting from one or commenting directly on the content.

My understanding is that the Crown Copyright has historically been only for preservation, or at least that’s been the excuse. I’m certainly not claiming that it hasn’t been abused or never will be but if we follow the UK pattern it reduces the chances.

That said, copyright and patents are supposed to serve the same basic purposes they’re supposed to serve in the United States.

Revelati says:

So you just FOIA documents, take a few simple precautions, and post them anonymously. You see the documents, the public sees the documents, and the government gets angry but cant enforce its own law because it can’t prove that you did anything.

Many people have been posting, uploading, and bit-torrenting things that are technically illegal for decades. Just wait untill some old crotchety MP (who thinks the internet is run on squirrel cages greased with unicorn tears) uses this copyright crap as an excuse to cover up some questionable fund allocations. The information will be revealed anyway, this ridiculous “crown copyright” will get pushed into the public spotlight, and anyone in government dumb enough to try and defend it will get slapped into next week by the Streisand effect.

If some government wants to make itself look incompetant by having these unenforceable laws on the books, then I feel like its our fault for paying them…

Anonymous Coward says:

No, no, no!

The CORRECT way to deal with this is to maintain a website with an email system for exclusive use by that website. Submitting your name automatically files a FIA form for everything on record and everything to come. All forms are put in email/pdf/whatever format to your email for that site. Since it is exclusively for that site, you really only need to store one copy of each.

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