Open content pioneer talks govt information policy

Copyright freedom and open democracy intimately connected

Creative Commons co-founder Lawrence Lessig has met with federal government officials to discuss ways public content licensing can be adopted by agencies to expand copyright freedom and improve democracy.

Lessing said during the last US presidential election campaign the candidates realised a tight connection between copyright freedom and open democracy.

“If you’re not free to use the materials of your culture in the debate and expression about how politics should develop, then the open democracy will be hampered in a way that is really unnecessary,” he said.

This week Senator Kate Lundy Conversations at Copyright Futures blogged about a meeting with Lessig where the two discussed copyright law and the opportunity to reform it. (The full interview transcript and podcast is available on Senator Lundy's Web site.)

Lundy told Computerworld many of today's copyright problems relate to the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) the former government entered into, which has been widely criticised for its imbalance.

“This all links back to that experience of how poorly the former govt approached the FTA,” Lundy said. “Some 70 'mickey mouse' copyright extensions were transferred into Australian law as a result of the FTA and there was inadequate investigations in to that [and] Lawrence Lessig has provided insight into potential impact of these laws for Australia.”

According to Lessig, copyright freedom and open democracy are intimately connected and both need to move in the same direction.

Lundy, once a shadow ICT minister, is now focused on the convergence of content rights used in the public sphere, like Creative Commons, and the licensing of government information which can facilitate freedom of information (FOI).

“We're at the beginning of a long road and we have reform bills in parliament,” she said. “A whole new approach is transparency and the policy needs to change to make that the default position.”

“Having been in opposition for many years I know how hard it is to access government information. We have a fair way to go to make it a reality, but it's the start of good intent.”

Legislative activities include bills for the establishment of an Information Commissioner (to sit above the existing Privacy Commissioner) and FOI reform.

Lundy said the Australian Bureau of Statistics is a great example of an agency that instead of charging for information is releasing some under Creative Commons.

“An example of a quick thing we can do is to make all of the geospatial information available to the public domain as the value-add would be good for he economy.”

Lundy also cited the National Archives releasing its software in the public domain as a “terrific example” of public sector innovation and subsequent public benefit.

“There are pockets of this all over the public sector that give me great confidence,” she said. “Involved in ICT policy for a long time and the more we can do in the public domain the more it drives the capacity for innovation.”

Lundy will host an open government public sphere event on Monday, June 22 in Canberra. The details are on her Web site.

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