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Same As It Ever Was: Canada's New Open Data Portal and Restrictive Licence Terms

I was offline yesterday and thus missed the official launch of the federal government's open data portal.  Like many, I think is great that the government has finally moved on this issue as Canada has trailed far behind many other countries in making government data openly available for reuse for far too long. The immediate reaction to the launch included some disappointment at the licensing terms, as David Eaves quickly pointed to restrictive language that would even stop someone from using the data "in any way which, in the opinion of Canada, may bring disrepute to or prejudice the reputation of Canada." Treasury Board Secretary Stockwell Day responded to the concern by indicating that was not the intent and that the language would be addressed.

That too is good news, but I think it is important to identify the source of the licensing language and the larger issue at play. First, the licensing terms, including the disrepute provision, have been used by the government for several years. The licence terms at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, which has offered open data for several years, features the same language on a webpage that was last modified in 2008.  In fact, the GeoConnections program, which disseminates geographic data, published a 184 page best practices guide in 2008 (and that was version 2) that discusses licensing terms in great detail and includes several samples.  In each case, the licence includes the disrepute provision. While it may be true that few people ever read the licence - Transport Canada published the new GC Open Data Portal licence weeks before yesterday's launch and no one seemed to notice - the terms are important both because they can be used to later restrict activities and because they reflect the government's view of the rights of Canadians to their data.

The government may revise the licence by removing the disrepute term, but I think a larger issue will remain.


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