Government, copyright and the public good

At GovCamp Canberra 2012, the Australian Information Commissioner Professor John McMillan stated:

“When government is the owner of intellectual property, a proprietary approach runs counter to the purpose of government and the public good”.

We couldn’t agree more. Governments exist to serve citizens, not to compete with them. Any form of information produced by governments should belong to the citizenry.

Further, in this age of easy sharing of information there is no reason to restrict this access to the citizenry of one country. There is also no practical way to stop such access. I can and do access the public domain works of the US Federal government, though I’m not a US citizen. A Tanzanian can access works of the Australian government, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

These are sadly rare examples. Governments do tend to slap “Copyright… all rights reserved” notices on their works – including local and state governments in the US, despite the good example of the federal government. In Australia, open licenses are encouraged but not compulsory, and some departments are still struggling with the idea of letting people use the content however they wish. There are fears and misconceptions, but there are also advocates of openness, and change is happening in their corner of the world.

Based on Professor McMillan’s presentation, and on a conversation with someone from his office, he and his office are serious about promoting knowledge sharing by the Australian government. I hope we’ll see this approach followed in more and more governments around the world.

Are there local government councilors and state/provincial representatives reading this? Or representatives from countries that haven’t implemented open licensing yet? Think about your publications on recycling, or energy efficiency, or cycling, or sustainable housing, or foreign aid… Councils such as the City of Sydney and the City of Portland have a large amount of valuable content, and citizens as well as governments would benefit from this information being shared.

What would it take to put a Creative Commons Attribution license on all your publications?

The quote was captured and shared on Twitter by Pia Waugh – wording is accurate to the best of our knowledge.

It’s not developed versus developing

One thing that naturally affects what kind of abundance we’ll experience in future is: how many people will have to share what we have? This has led to much fear and many generalizations over the rapidly growing poor parts of the world.

There are many oversimplifications in this thinking. One important observation on this comes from the former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government:

We are today at the point where the average woman on the globe is having only one female child. We’re still committed by the momentum of population growth to see population increase another 50%. But within the developing world there are huge differences, where some countries, not in a coercive way, but with culturally sensitivities, have empowered women, and given them the ability, made available control over reproductive choices. Other countries have done absolutely nothing or even opposed, and you see fascinating patterns.

When India was partitioned… originally, Bangladesh had about 5 million more people than Pakistan. They have had three decades of culturally sensitive, information rich, resource rich empowerment of women. Pakistan’s done nothing. By the middle of this century, Pakistan will have 60 million more people than Bangladesh.

So it’s not first world, third world; it’s not developed, developing. It’s the governments within the developing world, and in many countries in the developing world, their models that act better than we do.

That’s Lord Robert May, transcribed from a Lowy Institute video. (Quote is from 3:26 – 5:24)