Fixing Canadian Crown Copyright.

AuthorWakaruk, Amanda

The federal Copyright Act establishes the legal framework for use of copyright-protected works in Canada. Under the Act, rights-holders have the exclusive right to reproduce and re-use substantial amounts of a work unless such uses fall under one of the statutory exceptions to copyright infringement. This framework attempts to provide a balance between the needs of rights-holders and users. This balance is supposed to serve the public interest.

It's easy to understand how this legal protection incentivizes the creation of new content for those with a commercial interest. However, it is unclear why economic controls are needed for government works: government information is produced using tax dollars and its creation furthers the aims of democratic governance, which includes sharing information with Canadian residents and citizens. Furthermore, other types of access and distribution controls are already available to governments under broadly-worded exemptions and exclusions in the Access to Information Act.

Our parliaments, government agencies and the judiciary simply do not need economic incentives to create government works. A government body produces press releases, reports and legislative publications to report on the work of government or further the aims of its policies and programs, not to make money off the people it governs.

What is Crown copyright?

Section 12 of the Copyright Act states that copyright belongs to Her Majesty (the Crown) when a work has been "prepared or published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or any government department..." The copyright term lasts "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." This language has remained virtually unchanged since 1921 when it was copied from the 1911 UK Copyright Act.

Section 12 gives governments the right to control the reproduction and re-use of government works in the same way that movie producers control the distribution of feature films and publishers control the copying of novels. That is, anyone sharing or re-using a substantial part of a government work without permission would be subject to a claim of copyright infringement. While a legal defense might include an exception to infringement, low levels of copyright literacy and institutional risk aversion make reliance on statutory exceptions unlikely, especially when a quick turnaround is needed...

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