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April 10th, 2019

NDP Aims to Open Government by Abolishing Crown Copyright

Masse introduces bill to eliminate Crown Copyright and save Canadians money.

OTTAWA – Today, at a press conference, NDP Critic for Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Brian Masse (Windsor West), discussed his Bill C-440, introduced yesterday, that would end undemocratic and unnecessary barriers to the access and re-use of government information. Masse was joined by Amanda Wakaruk (Copyright Librarian University of Alberta), Katherine McColgan (Executive Director of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations), and Julie Morin (Canadian Association of Research Libraries).

“Government belongs to the people and so should its information,” stated Masse. “The fact that Canadians have to pay three times for the same information is outrageous and wasteful. It is absurd that crown copyright originates from a time when the model T was the biggest-selling automobile. That car does not exist today and neither should crown copyright.”

Crown copyright was added to the Canadian Copyright Act of 1921, based on language in the 1911 UK Act. This provision provides the government with control over the use, re-use, and distribution of government works, despite the fact that necessary controls are now rendered via the Access to Information Act and the Treasury Board Secretariat Policy on Communications and Federal Identity. This forces Canadians to ask for permission to re-use and distribute government works or risk a claim of copyright infringement. Such requests are often delayed and denied.

Canadian taxpayers fund the production of government works, bear the costs of administering the clearance processes for granting or denying the right to re-use these works, and pay again in cases where the government charges for access. In contrast, U.S. federal works are freely available for re-use since the United States Congress mandated in 1895 that they were not subject to copyright protection. This puts Canadian researchers, scientists, archivists, cultural stewards, and innovators at a disadvantage.

In 2017, Copyright Librarian Ms. Wakaruk petitioned Parliament to remove copyright protection from publicly available government works. The petition was signed by almost 1,500 Canadians.

“Crown copyright is hurting the work of our cultural memory organizations and the public they serve,” stated Wakaruk. “It is also bolstering the democratic deficit. It needs to be abolished so we can all do our work without fear of infringement.”