Should Canada hold copyright on government documents?

It is a fairly obvious and logical train of thought. Governments are funded by taxpayers to operate on behalf of those same taxpayers. So any programs, property, or information, developed in course by said government should be openly accessible by the citizens.

Most people won’t really see this particular issue as being of any impact to them, but however obvious or obstructed it may be taxpayers have a right to any product developed with their money. This is of course within reason. Military developments such as encryption technology or the next great weapon do not necessarily have a need to be in the public domain or available to the public. It actually might be in the best interest of the citizens that military secrets stay just that, secrets. But that issue aside for a moment.

Governments produce a lot of documentation and in that documentation there can be a fair amount of intellectual property. For example I recently worked on a paper for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC). This paper researched “the relationship among technology, perceived privacy risks, and policy in the health care sector” and was produced by members of the Computer Science Department and Medical Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland. The paper was funded by the OPC which is in turn funded by taxpayers. This is just one of many examples of the IP produced by or for governmental institutions. But is that information part of the public domain and freely accessible?

The short answer in Canada is no. Canadian copyright laws do not require that documents produced by or for the government to be part of the public domain. Unlike our US counterparts where documents produced are automatically part of the public domain (although it is important to know this does not equate to automatic access) Canadian documents are copyrighted. This translates in to a possible need to pay for license agreements, obtain permission to reproduce, and possible restrictions on access beyond necessary privacy and security issues. To put it in context Canadian copyright law could require a school, organization, or citizen to pay royalties for using a piece of legislation, judicial review, or other government document. Something it has already paid for though taxation.

The question that should be address is should documents produced by or for the government and its agencies be placed in the public domain, or should we retain the current practice. The reasoning behind why we do not currently place copyrighted material in the public domain is because agents of the Government of Canada, those being; judges, Members of Parliament, Provincial and local governments, and their employees are working in service of the Queen as the head of state. As such all copyrights are the property of the Monarch.

I would argue that while these agents work in service for the Queen they also work in the interests of the citizens and as such produce the body of their work for the citizens. Those documents, such as the aforementioned OPC paper I participated in, should be a matter of public record and hold no copyright.

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