"[this] is the subject of a careful internal review, in which all options are being explored". Or in other words: "we're still looking for a good excuse not to release that information".
The House of Commons was due last week to explain why, unlike the hundreds of organisations that regularly respond to Freedom of Information Requests through charity website whatdotheyknow.com, it has refused to do so. It didn't, and said it will now offer an explanation later this month. Maybe. Whatdotheyknow is one of a …
I've been following this story for a while now and I'm pretty sure that the problem isn't that the Commons don't want to release the information.
The issue is that if they send their response to an address which automatically republishes it then it will be then sender e.g. the person at the Commons that sent the response, that will be responsible for any copyright breach.
What they're saying is 'If you want to republish then that's your choice and you face the consequences. We're not going to do that for you.'
A reasonable analogy would be if you were a delivery firm and a customer asked you to deliver a package within a deadline that meant you had to break the speed limit to do it. I wouldn't be willing to do that - would you?
Also, under the 'Reuse of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005' public authorities can invoke their rights, as the owners of the copyright, over material. This covers situations such as where a public authority spends money putting together a report for their own purposes that would be useful to businesses then it is perfectly reasonable for them to charge others to use that information or even restrict them frm commercial reuse entirely.
Where I think the House of Commons has fallen down on this is by not explaining their decisions to the whatdotheyknow.com site. That'll have probably arisen because they've had a lawyer tell them what I've just said above and they think that opinion will be subject to legal professional privilege. This last part is my hypothesis but it seems reasonable enough given the evidence.
If the documents included costed proposals or technical proposals from potential suppliers of equipment or services, then those documents would be covered by commercial confidentiality agreements. As such it would be perfectly reasonable to refuse to issue them to anyone outside the relevant working group or suppliers concerned.
However, the claim is that it would be a breach of copyright, that being the copyright of Parliament. So we have the ridiculous situation where Parliament is saying 'we created those documents and if we tell you what is in them, you will copy them and ..........'....what??
If Parliament is planning to make money by publishing and selling the documents, as a commercial activity, this would be a valid objection. As far as I'm aware, Parliament is not in this line of business and so any release of the documents would not harm it's commercial activities. (Does it have any commercial activities?).
Furthermore, since Parliament holds the copyright, they also have the right to give the right to make copies for defined purposes, such as non profit-making public information services. Any attempt to resell this information could be forbidden under simple terms in a license. All of those considerations become moot when you realise the simple and blindingly obvious fact that when you give information to any member of the public, you have effectively given it to all members of the public as far as 'protecting' that information is concerned.
The three paragraphs above are what happens if you try to be logical and believe what these monkeys tell you and then try to argue with them. In fact, it's just any excuse they can think of to not let you have the information you are entitled to.
We need a cobblers/bollocks icon to add to the options. Any ideas?
...wouldn't it be closer to
10 "Give another email address (that doesn't automatically republish) and we'll send it"
20 "Why won't you send me the information ?"
30 goto 10
Sorry, i'm sure i'm missing something here but if it's such a big thing why the hell hasn't one of the members of MySociety just supplied a suitable email address ?
(Just a quick note that my name is Francis Irving, not Francis Stirling, which I'm guessing an errant spellchecker has changed it to in the article!)
@Tim Parker - I give details why I don't give another email in the request. But in short, yes you're right - I am prioritising clearing up the principle about Freedom of Information and copyright above actually getting the document quickly myself.
You've definitely hit the nail on the head there.
The only advantage there is to continuing this little farce is that it makes UK Gov look bad. Like they need anyone's help for that.
I'm afraid you've over simplified the issue. Parliamentary Copyright covers material produced by the House of Commons and the House of Lords of the Westminster Parliament which is subject to Parliamentary copyright protection. Which this information appears to be subject to.
It's copyright just like anyone else's copyright and as such they can and do issue licences for it's re-use. The funny thing is, this licence:
specifically states that it covers publishing on a website. So if they really want to put it on whatdotheyknow.com they need to apply for a licence, simple as.
Obviously, an automatic system can't do that.
Your point that 'All of those considerations become moot...' is ridiculous. You're effectively saying that any content put on a public page then belongs to the public and no copyright should be asserted over that material. Only the most committed freetard can seriously subscribe to that view.
There was a case with building codes, where a LOT of cities had adopted some builder's association example codes, without change. So the building codes were copyrighted by the association, of course.
You could come LOOK at the codes, but not write them down or publish them to anybody else. This led to the case of the guy that posted all his local laws online being sued.
Fortunately, the judge said since ignorance of the law has never been a legitimate defense, it follows that preventing the law from being published is equally without defense and told the builder's association to suck it up.
"..Your point that 'All of those considerations become moot...' is ridiculous. You're effectively saying that any content put on a public page then belongs to the public and no copyright should be asserted over that material..."
My point was badly worded and badly placed. When I used the word 'protecting' (and placed it in quotes) I had in mind protection from further dissemination, in the sense of secrecy. My placing that in a paragraph about copyright,was an obvious mistake and I should have devoted a separate paragraph to that particular area of concern (or included it in the first paragraph concerning confidentiality).
As a matter of interest, I am a committed freetard but I do all my Bittorent downloads at night when the ISP nightshift are sleeping at their desks so that they don't notice. (You see, we do need a cobblers/bollocks icon!)
@Secretgeek "You're effectively saying that any content put on a public page then belongs to the public and no copyright should be asserted over that material. Only the most committed freetard can seriously subscribe to that view." -- well, all information made by the US government is by default in the public domain, so there is precedent for what Frank is implying...
Fair enough. :-)
I do appreciate that but I think your argument of precedent is a bit tepid - 'They do it so why can't we?'
If you're looking to take down the Crown and/or Parliament Copyright system you're going to need much bigger ammo.
I'm not saying anything you don't know, when I say that this system has been entrenched in our government system for probably longer than even the concept of legal professional privilege and I imagine would be just as hard to shift or even amend.
Not that that doesn't make it worth doing of course but I'm not qualified to make that decision.
My feeling is that if it can be evidenced that the Copyright system is being abused to withold information that would otherwise i.e. through FOIA or EIR, be available then you might have the beginnings of case. In this instance you're really just tilting at windmills as they've already said that they'd give you the info.
Maybe just apply for a licence? You only have to do it once and it's free for Parliament Copyright material.
It's important to bear in mind the justification for copyright restrictions: in order to provide creators with a reward for creating work, so I can make money out of writing novels, developing software, composing music or whatever. None of that applies to Parliament, which is not supposed to be in the business of, er, business: it's funded by our taxes in order to legislate on our behalf, not to create commercial products!
The US government has the right idea here: we pay for it through our taxes, so the copyright belongs to the public (i.e. public domain) not to the individual bit of our government we paid to do the work for us. If they license something from a commercial entity, that's different - but anything we pay for, we should own.
Plenty of others brought up immediate problems with your paytard rationale.
Parliament works for ME. Government works for ME.
In what business is the CEO's stuff copyrighted from reading by the directors of the board? In what business is the programming I write my copyright and not copyright my employer?
In any case, unless FOIA releases are a source of revenue and NOT (as they keep telling people when they refuse) a cost centre, then there is no loss of revenue. And, copyright being a civil tort, of no loss whatsoever.
Governments have secrets and that's it.
Copyright would only come if it was in reference to someone who wasn't the employer of the government (foreigner or company, since companies don't have a vote).
Fuck all to do with "information wants to be free". THIS IS OUR DATA!
That might be justification used by media companies but I'd argue that it's not copyright's raison de'etre. Fundamentally, you're not necessarily looking to receive a reward for your work, although that could be a side effect or even the reason for creating the work in the first place, it's to prevent others from taking your work and passing it off as their own.
From the little I've seen of Parliamentary Copyright it would also appear to function in this way.
I would guess that Crown Copyright is somewhat different again, in that it was probably originally formed to assert the Crown's authority over anything it created without question.
I appreciate your point but if that's the case then it's Crown Copyright that applies and not Parliamentary. Effectively the same thing as far as this case goes I believe.
@Everyone else who're saying 'It's our stuff!'
You can have you're stuff use FOI, EIR and DPA, what's the big deal about applying for a licence to re-use it? However I do think that my comment to Francis 16:03 still stands. If you want to change the system you're going to need more than just 'Well they do it!'
Sorry for being thick but....
45 Parliamentary and judicial proceedings
(1) Copyright is not infringed by anything done for the purposes of parliamentary or judicial proceedings.
(2) Copyright is not infringed by anything done for the purposes of reporting such proceedings; but this shall not be construed as authorising the copying of a work which is itself a published report of the proceedings.
An this is an FOI request to Parliment, shurely shome mistake somewhere?
Obviously, listing government documents such as these as public domain is a truely awful idea. It could lead to such horrible results as people being able to look up what their government is actually doing.
Then again, it could lead to people saying "well, now that we can just look, I'm sure someone is looking into it. I'm glad I dont have to worry about being all upset about it." Clearly the yanks are ahead in their closed, opressive socity by having it open...