Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Simple Fix for Cringeworthy Crown Copyright

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There’s a provision in Canada’s Copyright Act that makes University of Alberta Copyright Librarian, Amanda Wakaruk, cringe. The clause (section 12 of the Act), states that:
Without prejudice to any rights or privileges of the Crown, where any work is, or has been, prepared or published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or any government department, the copyright in the work shall, subject to any agreement with the author, belong to Her Majesty and in that case shall continue for the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work and for a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year.
After multiple years of experiencing difficulty gaining permission for institutions like the U of A Libraries to digitally harvest and distribute publicly accessible government documents for research and study, Wakaruk has channelled her observations and angst about Crown Copyright into a House of Commons e-petition, sponsored by Saskatoon West MP, Sheri Benson. 

The premise of the petition - that information created and published by a government should be accessible to its people - is not unusual. In the United States, federal government publications have been in the public domain since the 1890s. And although the United Kingdom has retained its Crown Copyright provision, the provision has been updated and the country allows broad use and sharing of most public government publications under the terms of an Open Government Licence. Canada’s equivalent federal licence is more restrictive and applied inconsistently across government agencies. 

In Canada, Crown Copyright remains a significant barrier for institutions and individuals who need to use and reuse Canadian parliamentary proceedings, government reports, press releases, and statistical publications. Researchers and librarians are frustrated by the inconsistent interpretation of section 12 by government employees and by having to ask for permission to use these works in ways that should be not only allowed but encouraged in a liberal democracy.

The solution to fix Crown Copyright is simple: the petition calls for the addition of a clause (12.1) that removes copyright protection for government works once they’ve been made publicly available.

Wakaruk sees an important role for librarians in critiquing government information policy and how it affects the public good, and she’s not alone. Her petition is being supported by organizations and individuals from across Canada, and had gained over 1000 signatures at the time of this post.

For more information about Crown Copyright, and to view the e-Petition, which closes on September 23, visit

More information about Amanda’s work on this issue can be found here:

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