Enabling Access to Public Sector Information

Last week’s focus on open access, including the Liberal commitment to open government, brings to mind key issues involving access to public sector information.  My colleague Elizabeth Judge tackles the issue in her chapter in From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright”: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda.

Judge provides a comparative analysis on the use and reuse of public-sector information, noting that many other countries have moved far ahead of Canada in offering their data in open formats accompanied by open licences.  The article identifies several alternatives to moving toward open data, including government-backed initiatives and the adoption of open licences such as a Crown Copyright licence modeled on the Creative Commons licence.  She notes that crown copyright remains an impediment to access to Canadian public sector information, but concludes that open licencing offers a mechanism to overcome that barrier without the need for statutory reform.


  1. There is a spectrum of “public sector information”
    From what I read in the article, she ignores some parts of the spectrum. While she acknowledges that the private sector does work for the federal government and can retain the IP (in my experience this is done to reduce the cost to the government), she does not cover the converse; I know that the NRC, for instance, performs studies funded by private industry. Now, is this “public sector information”? After all, the work was performed by public servants.

    My point is that it isn’t as black and white (i.e. all work performed by a public servant should be made public, subject to national security and privacy considerations) as some would appear to believe.

    Now, let’s add to this the current budget crunch. Why give it away when you can sell it, especially if the intended use is commercial (giving the information away, in this sense, could be considered a form of corporate welfare).

    I personally have no problem with the idea of the Crown being able to say aye or nay to particular uses of the data; after all, why should telemarketers, etc, be able to mine long form census data to determine where to best focus their efforts (for example)? It would also, theoretically, prevent the use of the data in a manner which the Canadian public would not approve of. I admit that this does open up the possibility of the abuse of this power by the politicians (of any party); thus the determination should be made by a arms length organization.

  2. pat donovan says:

    data wars
    data, (info, sheds, etc) is NOT open.
    THAT was the most important aspect.
    data can be copyright. (collections of, too)

    want to bet rogers tries to DMCA takedown ‘their’ data (ie time/data) REAL soon now?

    like orbits + math being patents/copyright trademark issues, the whole concept is absurd.

    the trigger will be money, not censorship.

  3. Alighty
    @Anon-K – spoken like a true (protectionist) beurocrat.

  4. @Alighty
    Brian, did you bother to read my post?

    My point is that using the example of a relatively narrow portion of the work that is done by the public servants in Canada (it may well be the largest single amount) and using that as a justification for defining the government position for crown copyright (or lack thereof) on all work performed by the public servants is ignoring a chunk of reality. I used the example of the NRC. So, would you consider the work done by them, when funded by the private sector, to be freely available? How about if you had funded it? While Ms Judge raises some valid points, I recognize that the funding formula for work done by public servants, or paid for by the government, varies. As such, a one-size-fits-all approach needs to be applied. Where the work is fully paid for by the government, and done by public servants, by default it should be freely available unless the government can demonstrate a reason why not. Where that is not the case, then things get greyer and it needs to be examined on a case by case basis.

    Now, where a company receives an R&D tax credit (in reality a government subsidy)… since the work is partially paid for by the government, does that make the employees of the company government employees and therefore that work should be in the public sector?

    Oh, and by the way, I work in the private sector and have for a number of years.

  5. Oops
    I meant to say “As such, a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applied.”. Editing issues.

  6. If the government can’t give the public anything else, can they at least take the simple and uncontroversial step of once and for all abolishing the idiotic perpetual crown copyright in unpublished government documents?

    This issue was flagged for fixing five and six decades ago. And yet they continue to do nothing.

    Free the history!