The Canadian government announced plans last spring in Budget 2018 to support local journalism with a $50 million commitment over five years. It indicated that the money would be allocated by independent, non-governmental organizations to provide support in under-served communities. Last week, the federal economic update included several additional measures to support the media sector, including the prospect of charitable donations to non-profit journalism organizations, a refundable tax credit to support labour costs for news organizations, and a non-refundable tax credit for Canadians that subscribe to Canadian digital news media. While the new funding has attracted considerable commentary (my take here on why there are problems but the proposal is better than Internet taxes or other cross-subsidization models), somewhat overshadowed was an update on the initial $50 million commitment.
The update indicates that the money will be invested in “open source” news content that will be available under a Creative Commons licence:
Budget 2018 announced $50 million over five years to support local journalism in under-served communities, helping to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to informed and reliable civic journalism. Starting in 2019-20, independent, not-for-profit organizations will have additional government support to create open source news content under a creative commons licence. This will allow local news organizations to access the content produced for free, helping to bolster local news coverage as organizations struggle with reduced capacity.
The plan to fund Creative Commons licensed open news content is big news as it represents a different model for ensuring that local communities are served by local news reporting. I have been arguing since 2005 that Canada should embrace open licensing of news content, emphasizing the role that the CBC could play in that regard. Early pieces cited examples from Norway and the UK for how public broadcasters were actively using open licensing to enable new creativity that builds upon their work. More recently, I argued for open licensing of CBC content:
What the public often needs are the “raw materials” to enhance their content and better platforms to help distribute and market it. What if the CBC saw its public role primarily through that prism? It could continue to produce news programming, but openly licence its content so that Canadians could freely use it for their own creativity and storytelling.
The Public Policy Forum’s Shattered Mirror report picked up on the potential for the CBC to adopt Creative Commons licences for news content. I argued that it could have gone further by supporting more flexible licensing (it recommended an attribution, no derivatives licence that would restrict the ability to re-use the news content), but the general principle remains the same: public support for the creation of local news content based on the quid pro quo that the resulting content is then openly and freely available for others to use and disseminate. Creators are fully compensated upfront for their work and the public can then use or reuse the result. The same approach is now widely accepted within the education and research communities where open access to scholarly research and the development of open educational resources are based on much the same premise of public investment in return for public access alongside full compensation to creators for their work.
Having embraced the Creative Commons licence as part of the solution to increasing the creation and distribution of local news content, the government should pursue additional steps in support of openly licensed news content, including incorporating the CBC into the initiative. Given the public tax dollars used to support the public broadcaster, the CBC should be exploring ways to make its local news content openly available. Moreover, the government itself should unlock its content, by eliminating crown copyright and adopting open licensing when it posts content on sharing services such as Flickr.