Comparing the Fine Print at the White House and PMO Websites

Yesterday's inauguration of President Barack Obama also brought with it a complete overhaul of the site.  While there has been some media coverage of the change (including the appointment of a Director of New Media for the White House), it is worth looking at the fine print by contrasting the copyright notices found on the White House site and the Prime Minister of Canada's site.  The site adopts the following:

Pursuant to federal law, government-produced materials appearing on this site are not copyright protected. The United States Government may receive and hold copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

Except where otherwise noted, third-party content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Visitors to this website agree to grant a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

In other words, no copyright in the government-produced materials and a Creative Commons license that permits both commercial and non-commercial usage (with attribution) for third-party materials.  That is as permissive as it gets – no real restrictions or requirements to obtain permission, which means that the public has both access and the right to use the materials on the site as they see fit.

Now consider the Prime Minister of Canada's copyright notice:
The material on this site is covered by the provisions of the Copyright Act, by Canadian laws, policies, regulations and international agreements. Such provisions serve to identify the information source and, in specific instances, to prohibit reproduction of materials without written permission.

Information on this site has been posted with the intent that it be readily available for personal and public non-commercial use and may be reproduced, in part or in whole and by any means, without charge or further permission from the Office of the Prime Minister. We ask only that:

  • Users exercise due diligence in ensuring the accuracy of the materials reproduced;
  • The Office of the Prime Minister be identified as the source department; and,
  • The reproduction is not represented as an official version of the materials reproduced, nor as having been made, in affiliation with or with the endorsement of the Office of the Prime Minister.

Reproduction of multiple copies of materials on this site, in whole or in part, for the purposes of commercial redistribution is prohibited except with written permission from the Government of Canada's copyright administrator, Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC).

While this is better than some other Canadian government departments (who require permission for all uses), it is still not good enough.  First, Canada should drop crown copyright so that there is no copyright in government-produced materials.  Second, there is no need for a distinction between commercial and non-commercial – Canadians should be free to use the government-produced materials for either purpose without permission.  Third, third-party materials, which are Creative Commons licensed in the U.S., are subject to full restrictions in Canada.  Admittedly few people take the time to read these terms and conditions, yet they send a message about the openness, transparency, and a commitment to public engagement with government.  The White House has changed its approach and now the Prime Minister should do the same.


  1. I agree!
    I couldn’t agree with you more, Michael.
    We all paid for that research and writing of government information for use by Canadian citizens and government employees and we should all be able to do whatever we want with it without permission as we are the all owners. This is not a commercial/intellectual property situation, a 3rd grader could figure out that there is something wrong with our copyright laws!

  2. Our honourable friend Jim Prentice is at it again!
    Prime minister is unlikely do the same, because they are double-dipping with this crown copyright and our taxes. We pay taxes to the government, so, it should be deemed “work for hire”, and copyright should go to the constituents.

    In a related note, here is what our honourable friend Jim Prentice is doing in his new role:

    Prentice wants to use emission-generating oil sands from Alberta and downplays the energy conservation strategies like smart grids:

    “Despite the reputation of the oil sands as a large emitter of greenhouse gases, they “will continue to be extremely important” as an energy source, he said. “We’re not going to eliminate the world’s use of hydrocarbons in the short term … [and] the oil sands provide a stable North American supply.”

    Mr. Prentice played down the role of energy conservation, renewable fuels and “smart” electrical grids in helping to maintain energy security, at least in the short term. While important, he said, they will represent only 20 per cent of energy capacity at least until the 2020s.

    That position is short sighted – especially in light of U.S. President Barack Obama’s declared intention to create millions of “green jobs” in the alternative energy sector – a key environmental lobby group said yesterday.

  3. Big Government
    Canadian governmental institutions (all levels) do tend to behave like benevolent big brothers with devine right to rule. They cannot pathom relenquishing control and worse need to constantly remind the public that they are in charge. Toward this end they need to ensure that they can always back their position with facts that they control, and make sure that you can never use the same facts against them. Why else are most governmental publications copyrighted?

  4. I couldn’t agree more. Crown copyright has so many flaws, and openness so many positives that there’s almost no room for discussion.

  5. VancouverDave says:

    Role Reversal
    This looks very much like the hired help telling the owner what he can and cannot do with his property.

  6. François Caron says:

    We’re looking at this all wrong.
    We might be interpreting the current Crown Copyright policy all wrong. We’re all assuming that the Canadian government is an entity separate from the Canadian people. But in reality, the Canadian government IS the Canadian people.

    So from my point of view, since I already “own” a stake in the government, I also “own” a stake in its intellectual property. In other words, I and every other Canadian citizen in this country are already the legal rights holders of every government publication in existence. As a consequence, we can use every published document as we wish without prior permission.

    Of course, this point of view still has to be tested in court.

  7. nhattruong says:

    thank you for sharing