Project 4: Copyright Law and Intellectual Property
Professor Anne Fitzgerald examined the broad policy rationale for copyright in relation to public sector information and found that there is a strong case to realign Commonwealth copyright policy based on the principles of open access and re-use which would facilitate complex flows of information between and within the public and private sectors. The report stated that this could be achieved without the need for significant changes to copyright legislation by repositioning crown copyright to enable rather than restrict re-use; adopting copyright management practices appropriate to the Web 2.0 environment (e.g. standardised open licenses which provide clear statements of users’ permissions); and providing clearer guidance to agencies about the use of open licenses, and the meaning of ‘publication’ in the Copyright Act.
It was clear from the outset of this project that there is a high level of awareness about copyright and a determination to ensure that it does not act as a barrier to the flow of materials and information held by the public sector. Copyright (and the licensing of it) was raised as an issue in many of the submissions responding to “Towards Government 2.0: An Issues Paper” and in comments posted on the blog. Many obviously welcomed the Government 2.0 Task Force consultation process as an opportunity to highlight problems with copyright law and practice that need to be addressed if government is to engage most effectively in the web 2.0 environment.
One of the most interesting observations to emerge is that the experiences of different sectors within government vary widely, largely due to differences in the kinds of materials dealt with and their ownership. From the “GLAM” sector (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) – custodians of Australia’s archival and cultural collections – there is a real sense of frustration that copyright concerns continue to prevent them from fully utilizing available digital technologies and the internet to unlock their treasures. The initiatives taken where copyright is not an issue (such as the National Library of Australia’s Australian Newspapers digitization project – see http://newspapers.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/home) show us what is possible. However, in this sector copyright is often not owned by government and problems such as potentially “perpetual” copyright in unpublished materials and no clear way of dealing with orphan works have frustrated efforts to digitize these collections so they can readily be accessed and used.
On the other hand, there are now many examples at the federal, state and local levels of government departments and agencies actively managing copyright so that publicly owned materials are made available to users under clearly stated and non-restrictive licensing conditions. Government agencies that own copyright in key spatial, statistical, environmental and educational information and materials have given effect to their policies on access and reuse by applying open content, copyright-based licences (such as Creative Commons) to freely licence the material without the need for further permissions or compensation. For these agencies it is now very much a matter of just getting on with the job.
On a personal note, having been actively involved since 2005 in researching the potential for use by government of open content licences and developments in open access policies and practices (for the Government Information Licensing Framework (GILF) project – see http://eprints.qut.edu.au/28026/ ), it has been particularly interesting to observe the widespread acceptance of open access policies and Creative Commons licensing. The developments occurring across all levels of government in Australia are paralleled in countries with a shared copyright heritage, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Awareness of the advantages of this approach is growing also in Canada where, in recent comment on the Government 2.0 Task Force’s draft report, leading Canadian internet lawyer Professor Michael Geist stated: “This approach provides an efficient means of freeing up government works without the need for legislative change.” (see http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/4617/135/).