Guest post: Comment sought on draft public sector information licensing guidelines

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Helen Daniels is Assistant Secretary of the Business Law Branch of the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD).

Following the Australian Government’s response to the Government 2.0 Taskforce in May 2010, AGD and other agencies have undertaken a range of work to encourage greater open access to public sector information (PSI) owned or generated by Government agencies.

The Government response included new policy on the copyright licensing of PSI by Australian Government agencies. The Government agreed in principle to a default position that PSI should now be released free of charge under a Creative Commons ‘BY’ licence (otherwise known as the ‘Attribution Licence’). Reflecting this position, in October 2010 AGD released an updated Statement of Intellectual Property Principles for Australian Government Agencies (which was also discussed here on the AGIMO Blog).

AGD are in the process of drafting guidelines to assist Government agencies in making licensing decisions about adopting Creative Commons or other open licences. The draft guidelines are available for download here on the AGIMO Blog:

We have invited a range of agencies and other relevant stakeholders to provide submissions about these guidelines, and would welcome any other submissions by close of business 21 February 2011. Submissions can be left as comments on this blog post or sent to

Comments (7)

This is great! I would like to see one addition to the guidelines where agencies that decide not to use the default (CC-by) must publicly justify doing so on a case by case basis.

My agency sometimes engages consultants and we publish their reports on our website. In the past, we have sought permission to publish through contract documents. We would appreciate standard clauses, for insertion in procurement documentation and short form and long form contracts, to show intent to publish contract material under the BY licence. I understand that new documentation for procurement under $80,000 will shortly be circulated by the Department of Finance and Deregulation and I wonder whether that documentation includes copyright licensing options?

PS Your captcha words are difficult to read!

Fantastic initiative.

In the past, there has been so much value locked up accidentally by overly restrictive copyright arrangements.

Are you concerned that the requirement to make a decision at the time of releasing PSI might discourage Departments from releasing information? In what ways are Departments encouraged to release information?

Additionally, to ensure maximum access to data, would the Government consider the use of semantic web technologies? To clarify what I mean for those that have not used it before, here is a presentation by the inventor of the World Wide Web - who explains it better than I could - semantic web talk .

Here is an example site that uses semantic web principles dbopedia .

Fantastic step forward, and fills a guidance gap we have been discussing how to fill in our agency.

Will there also be guidance on how to appropriately restructure PSI for release in reusable, raw and feed-based approaches.

Slapping CC BY on government reports is an excellent start, but making the raw data in the report available in a machine-readable feed (with appropriate context and timestamps) vastly improves its usefulness.

It would also be useful to define a minimum version for CC licenses. I've seen both 2.5 and 3.0 versions used on government material. Similar to the process for adopting updated versions for other standards, there could be a review process each time CC licenses are updated to ensure that the new license still meets government requirements before it is supported.

Will the guidance provide any listing of other open licenses that are supported or preferred by government other than CC?

Outside of documents - are there any steps towards Open Source licenses for government-produced software, or support for government agencies contributing code back to Open Source projects? While software is not considered PSI under the guidance, it is legitimate IP and can have enormous value when shared under appropriate open licenses (OSL, GPL, etc).

I also recommend that AG create and provide guidance on standard copyright exclusion text for third party materials.

It would also be useful to see a recommendation and 'how to' guidance for agencies to develop IP registers to clarify what they own vs what they license (or may not license). This, in one respect, is an asset register, defining what the government owns and may dispose of (in a copyright manner).

Will there also be steps taken to amend the 'hole' in the Copyright Act regarding unpublished manuscripts - that have perpetual copyright (refer to Adrian Cunningham's comments in:

We commend these guidelines. While agencies still need to be aware of issues such as third party copyright and privacy, opening up Public Sector Information to the community is an important part of the Gov 2.0 agenda. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner encourages agencies to use open licencing wherever it is appropriate when releasing information in accordance with principle nine of our draft principles on Open Public Sector Information. Releasing PSI under licences, such as Creative Commons, is a key part of making it truly reusable and increasing its value as a national resource. We’re currently discussing other issues about open PSI on our blog.

Andrew Solomon
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

I would advise that the wording "Other relevant reasons for not treating material or data as PSI may include the incompleteness of material or data, such that it may be materially misleading. " is inappropriate for an Open Licencing policy. The Government 2.0 Taskforce explicitly addressed and condemned this as a reason for not releasing PSI in Section "Data quality, embarrassment and inconvenient truths" of their report. In particular "There might be concerns, legitimate or less so, about the quality of the data to be released. With rare exceptions, it will be better to drive the accountability and innovation benefits that come from an open access approach to PSI by releasing the data, subject to clearly expressed caveats about its quality and possibly with the intention of subsequently revising and improving it—including by ‘crowdsourcing’ the identification of problems with the data and/or the fixing of them. Agencies should not use poor quality as an excuse to suppress data. Even when the quality of the data is poor, its release may generate benefits." It should also be noted that this section of the report contains documented cases of agencies abusing data quality as an excuse and that is a practice that should not be allowed to continue.

I would suggest a statement that any "© Commonwealth of Australia" on a website (or potentially legacy printed materials) could be automatically CC-BY across the whole Commonwealth with the onus on the consumer to contact the agency on a case-by-case basis get third-party licences (because privacy/security concerns should not occur for data already in the public domain).
I think any reasonable person should be able to establish what has third-party copyright; in many cases it will be obvious that a third party does not own data that could only have been produced by government officers. At the same time, it would be reasonable to assume that most photographs would have copyright subsisting with the photographer.
This liberal licencing position maximizes the "serendipity" that causes PSI to get reused when the barriers to entry are low. As said in the Gov2 Taskforce report "Even seemingly moderate restrictions on the freedom of information may drastically reduce the potential for serendipitous discovery. This is true whether we are talking about freedom as in availability without payment or in another sense of the freedom to copy and tinker with others’ work and ideas.". Such a liberal position would reduce the effort not only on the data consumers but the agencies that provide it, leaving case-by-case analysis of the rights that subsist in a unit of PSI for those situations where it is most appropriate.
For example, we have previously seen with Google and the Victorian Bushfires that agencies cannot licence PSI fast enough even when there is a prevaling need and no obvious third party copyright. In particular, Google came to the conclusion that they had to simply copy the data off the failing Victorian agency websites without permission because the risk of doing nothing was greater than the risk of copyright infringement.
We have seen this yet again with the brisbane floods that there was a need to relicence City of Brisbane flood maps within 12-24 hours so they could be circulated widely as possible because access to the official website became difficult or in some cases impossible.

Thank you all for your input in your comments and emails. We’ll take your contributions into account as we develop the next version of the licensing guidelines. Any further comments can be sent to

Last updated: 29 July 2016