In 2010, the federal government implemented important changes to its crown copyright approach. While the law vests full copyright in government works, the government notified the public that it was establishing a non-commercial use licence that gave permission for non-commercial uses without the need for permission. The government stated:
Permission to reproduce Government of Canada works, in part or in whole, and by any means, for personal or public non-commercial purposes, or for cost-recovery purposes, is not required, unless otherwise specified in the material you wish to reproduce.
A reproduction means making a copy of information in the manner that it is originally published – the reproduction must remain as is, and must not contain any alterations whatsoever.
The terms personal and public non-commercial purposes mean a distribution of the reproduced information either for your own purposes only, or for a distribution at large whereby no fees whatsoever will be charged.
The term cost-recovery means charging a fee for the purpose of recovering printing costs and other costs associated with the production of the reproduction.
Up until last week, that remained the approach. As of November 18th, it appears to have changed. First, Publications and Depository Services, the branch within the Public Works and Government Services that handled crown copyright, is no longer doing so. It now provides the following notice:
This represents a significant change, opening the door to potentially inconsistent approaches as between departments and increasing complexity for the public that wants to use government works. In fact, prior experience suggests that some departments (National Defence, Auditor General) have denied permission or asserted crown copyright to takedown content.
Second, the non-commercial licence has disappeared from the Public Works and Government Services site and it is unclear whether it remains active. The licence does still appear on the Industry Canada site, but its disappearance from the central crown copyright service leaves open the question of whether it is operational across all government departments.
The termination of the crown copyright office within Public Works and Government Services offers the illusion of saving a bit of money – it cost roughly $250,000 per year to run the office (costs which will now be borne by individual departments) – but the far better approach would be for government to get out of the copyright ownership business altogether. The non-commercial licence was a good first step, but its potential removal demonstrates the problem with relying on a licensing change. The government should instead repeal crown copyright altogether, enabling Canadians to use the government works they have paid for for whatever purposes they see fit.