Does It Make Sense For Governments To Make Their Content Creative Commons... Or Fully Public Domain?

from the they're-not-the-same dept

One of the few good things that the US government has done on the copyright front was the decision decades back that nearly all works produced by the federal government automatically go into the public domain, and don't receive any form of copyright protection. This makes perfect sense, considering the whole point of copyright law is supposed to be to encourage learning and progress, and to create incentives for that to occur. When it comes to government information, there is no such incentive necessary. I still find it odd that other countries haven't followed suit. Many countries -- especially British Commonwealth countries -- have a special form of copyright for government documents, called Crown Copyright. At times, such Crown Copyright rules have been used to censor dissent.

So, it's certainly nice to hear, via James Firth, that the UK Parliament may consider moving away from relying on Crown Copyright on the works it produces. Apparently, at a discussion concerning the "digital agenda" and making information more open, the Director of Programmes and Development at Parliamentary ICT, Richard Ware, suggested that copyright didn't make sense for Parliamentary content:
"We're not looking to make any kind of return from this content. For us it's more important to open up the information and see what people can do with it."
Now, that's sort of a vague statement, but it at least indicates the direction that they're looking in. What struck me as interesting is that Firth took this statement to mean that Parliament is looking at using Creative Commons for its content. To be honest, it's not clear to me from the coverage of what Ware said that he was, in fact, discussing Creative Commons or some alternative solution. Firth has a nice discussion about the different CC licenses and which might make most sense for Parliament, but I wonder why it doesn't just make sense to go fully public domain on such material.

As much as I like and respect Creative Commons, it does seem that, all too often, people think either that Creative Commons is the public domain or that it's a replacement for the public domain. While CC has introduced a public domain license, I think it's important not to confuse the two. And, while CC licenses certainly make sense for different creators in different arenas, I would worry that for government-produced works, it would just create confusion, as many people seem to assume all CC licenses say things that many do not.

So I'm curious: is there any reason for a government to make its works covered by Creative Commons? Or should they just go public domain? Or, since we want all bases covered, can someone explain why governments should retain some form of copyright on their works?

Filed Under: creative commons, parliament, public domain, uk


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jun 2011 @ 7:52am

    Let's not be too quick to heap praises on "USG works" that by statute are outside of copyright law. This is solely because of a statute, and a statute today can be a former statute tomorrow. Even under the current statute the USG is able to hold copyright if it is transferred to it by "assignment, bequest or devise". I have seem circumstances in the past where the USG issued a contract for a work its employees could have easily create created, and then insert into the contract that the contractor who created the work was required to assign all rights under copyright law associated with the work to the USG, a nifty way to avoid the statutory preclusion.

    What is really sad about this loophole is that every instance where litigation has ensued it involved a contract between the USG and a charitable organization. It seems the notion of charity goes right out the windown the minute dollar signs appear in the charity's eyes.

    The basic premise of the statute is fine, but the exceptions could really use some work to have them more reasonably conform to the intent that underlies the basic premise.

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