As Industry Minister Jim Prentice prepares to introduce new copyright legislation, crown copyright is unlikely to be part of the reform package. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, there may be a disturbing reason behind the government's reluctance to address it – crown copyright costs Canadians hundreds of thousands of dollars while being used as a tool to suppress public criticism of government programs.
Dating back to the 1700s, crown copyright reflects a centuries-old perspective that the government ought to control the public's ability to use official documents. Today crown copyright extends for fifty years from creation and it requires anyone who wants to use or republish a government report, parliamentary hearing, or other work to first seek permission. While permission is often granted, it is not automatic. The Canadian approach stands in sharp contrast to the situation in the U.S. where the federal government does not hold copyright over work created by an officer or employee as part of that person's official duties. Government reports, court cases, and Congressional transcripts can therefore be freely used and published.
The existence of crown copyright affects both the print and audio-visual worlds and is increasingly viewed as a barrier to Canadian film making, political advocacy, and educational publishing.