At last night’s Hansard Society Democracy forum, which I chaired along with MPs Julian Huppert and Kris Hopkins, the work Parliament is doing around a new parliamentary data store came up (what will become data.parliament.uk). This is a great move forward and will be a very useful resource for a lot of us trying to make Parliament more accessible but quesiton I had was ‘what about copyright?’.
The initial answer that came back from Parliamentary ICT’s Richard Hale was that it would probably be Crown Copyright, the same as the Parliamentary website is at present. This is the wrong answer for so many reasons but Richard at least was more than receptive to the idea of doing things differently:
We’re not looking to make any kind of return from this content. For us it’s more important to open up the information and see what people can do with it.
The UK Parliament’s website currently has a whole page devoted to what you can’t do with things on there and the institution is still deeply mired in old-world thinking when it comes to digital content. Fortunately, there are some notable exceptions within its ranks.
The New Zealand Parliament takes a different approach and one that we should start to follow here in the UK. Material it publishes is in the public domain, no restrictions or limitations on use. This isn’t a recent innovation either, parliamentary material has been like this for a long time. In fact New Zealand now has open access standards in place right across government. Australia too has moved to using Creative Commons licensing for parliamentary material (even the Budget statement is put out this way).
This isn’t about protection of IP, its about a principle. Parliament is a highly visible part of our democratic structure and so taking a lead on openess and transparency creates positive ripples across the public sector. The age of Parliamentary Copyright is over, it’s an anacrhonistic throwback and doesn’t work.