Auditor General Wields Crown Copyright To Demand Takedown

Crown copyright concerns were raised repeatedly during this summer's copyright consultation as many groups expressed the view that government works should be treated as public domain.  The issue generated some surprise from Industry Minister Tony Clement, who asked for examples about why crown copyright was a problem.  This morning, the Auditor General provided a helpful example as her office has sent takedown demands to the Globe and Mail and Scribd for posting one chapter from her report (Globe article, Scribd post).  The office argues that crown copyright applies and that a written request for permission on a case-by-case basis is required.  Leaving aside the fact that this is arguably fair dealing – it is news reporting and consists of one chapter from a much larger report – the very notion that Canadians need advance permission to post a portion of government report runs counter to the Auditor General's own efforts at government transparency and efficiency.  The Auditor General should be encouraging broad dissemination of her work, not sending legal demand letters to shut down Internet postings.

This incident highlights yet again why the Canadian government needs a far more progressive approach to its own copyright policy.  It should be leading by example by: (1) dropping crown copyright and (2) adopting Creative Commons licences on its work and sites to promote the use of government documents without permission (see this list for similar examples from around the world).

Update: The Globe has reposted the chapter on Scribd roughly 24 hours after initially taking it down.  It is good to see the paper stand up for fair dealing in this case. 


  1. When will they ever learn? I doubt whether I ever would have read the report, until I was told I couldn’t. Then I made sure I did.

  2. Ghislain Desjardins says:

    OAG Media Relations Manager
    The Office of the Auditor General is pleased that the Globe and Mail has provided a link to our website, giving the Canadian public access to our audit report from Bill Curry’s article Auditor-General sounds alarm on immigration policy. We prefer a weblink to our website, rather than a link to a third party website over which the OAG has no control.

    The OAG website ( offers PDF and/or HTML versions of Reports dating back to 1981. Many media organizations provide links to our reports, and we appreciate and encourage this practice. Upon request, we can provide media organizations with advice about the most efficient way to facilitate access to our reports, for example, by reducing the number of clicks.

    Since access is directly to our website, we do not require anyone to request permission to post a link to a report.

    Ghislain Desjardins
    Manager, Media Relations
    Office of the Auditor General

  3. @Ghislain
    You may get some flak for that, but personally I find that approach to be better. Among other reasons, it means that I have access to the whole report, from the source, rather than excerpts which may give a false impression (unintentionally or intentionally) from a third or fourth party.

  4. Cut ‘n Paste
    Yes, how does one know when one is getting the unedited report when it’s posted on a third-party site? Edit is what newspapers do.

  5. “Control”
    Mr. Desjardins,

    Can you please explain the purpose of “control” once a document from your office has been “released”? In fact, how is this a “release” if your office retains control over it?

    A better question is how a Canadian citizen or reporter is to prove the contents and/or existence of any of your documents should they have sections added, edited, or removed or should the document disappear?

    I would assume your office has no intentions to deceptively alter documents or make them conveniently disappear, but then why work so hard to retain the ability for such an occurrence within your office while simultaneously depriving Canadian citizens of the assurance of ongoing authenticity only a personally-controlled copy can provide?

  6. @Dohn Joe
    You raise an interesting point, but my original point stands. As far as I know, there is nothing that prevents a citizen or reporter from downloading a copy on their own, for their own use/records (the beauty of offering a PDF download). However, sourcing the document themselves to others is another story, and raises the spectre of the person/media doing to the report themselves exactly what you mentioned in your second paragraph and then offering that one up for public consumption. At the end of the day, it comes down to how much trust you have in the source of the document. Experience to date has taught me to trust the media even less than the government (regardless of who is in power).

  7. Who cares if the document could be edited when reprinted by a third party? If the government produces a public document, WE own it. Not the government. They are merely our representatives. You own that document. I own that document. All Canadians own that document, including those that are printing it in news papers. How can they use copyright claims to prevent a co-owner of that copyright from publishing a work that is freely available?

  8. There’s a bit of a contradiction in your proposals. Removing crown copyright is a good idea, so is publishing them under a CC license. The problem is that you cannot do both. The creative commons licenses depend on having an underlying copyright to enforce. If this copyright doesn’t exist, then the creative commons license is meaningless.

  9. @Jorvay
    The issue about the document being edited by a third party is that, through intent or accident, they can change the document sufficient to indicate something other than the original intent to a reader of the modified content.

    Imagine a typo (for instance, introduced through OCR software). “I am going to bill Jorvay”, becomes “I am going to kill Jorvay”. Reading the OCR’ed version can give a very different opinion (at the least, it would indicate to you that the author didn’t know how to use a spell checker… at worst that they were planning on committing a crime).

    Another issue is the inadvertant release of personal information, such as the SIN of individuals. Allowing third parties to publish means that the information is out there for good. Accessing from the government site means that the information can be removed or blacked out from the available copy when the mistake is found.

    Now, does a foreign newspaper have the right to reprint? They do not pay taxes in Canada… so they have no financial claim to it. Does a Canadian who paid no taxes (i.e. they’ve lived outside of the country for the past few years) have the right to publish it?

    How about documents which are co-authored? Partially government funded, partially funded by private industry (for instance, studies prepared by government research institutions such as NRC and CRC). Do you have the right to publish it because you want to?

  10. @Anon-k
    Some fair points. Though I’d like to point out that I was speaking of works, such as in this case, that are freely available to the public. So this is a case where privacy and security concerns don’t come in to play. Our government has measures much more powerful than copyright to protect our privacy and security.

    That being said, copyright law is not meant to protect public documents from being reprinted. It is meant to protect the creator from losses due to illegal distribution of their work.

    If the GofC produced a document for public record that stated “Jorvay is super-cool,” then the Globe reprinted it but changed it to say “Jorvay is super-lame,” then that would certainly be a misprint, but not a copyright violation. In this case, the correct course of action would be for the GofC and/or myself to discredit the statement with a counter-statement, or possibly take legal action of another sort related to slander or some such thing. Copyright is not a tool for limiting misquotes or maintaining context, accidental or otherwise.

    Also, when I say that we all hold the copyright to this type of publicly and freely available document, what I am implying that, in essence, there should no copyright on the work.

  11. This is not long after the globe published this article about Canadian copyright :

    Maybe this will make the rethink statements like this “Canada, which has repeatedly promised but so far failed to deliver on copyright reform, isn’t just out of step with the United States, but with much of the Western world.”

  12. Copyright is the wrong legal framework for all the concerns
    Copyright is supposed to be a quid pro quo deal to encourage artist to create works by the promise of a monopoly on the commercial reproduction. But the government does not need any such encouragement, and commercial exploitation is not their purpose. Any concerns about the media distorting the document is a concern that has nothing to do with copyright. If anybody wants to enforce honest reporting in the media, this should be done by specific regulation of that trade, and not use copyright law as an excuse. Parliament needs to decide if it is allowed in the country to post willful disinformation, and what are the limits of the freedom of the press. Let the Parliament decide if newspapers should be forced to correct their information if they are found to misrepresent the facts about the government, or if a link to the government should be provided, etc. But this should not be connected with copyright.