back to article Using copyright to avoid Freedom of Info law? Ha, ha, NICE try!

Public bodies that disclose copyright-protected information in order to comply with a request under freedom of information (FOI) laws are not guilty of copyright infringement, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has said. Although the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) states that public bodies must not disclose …


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  1. LarsG

    There's an awful lot that public bodies don't want you to get your hands on.

    Not one skeleton in the cupboard, but millions just waiting to be found.

  2. Graham Wilson

    World's going mad.

    Even thinking the concept is outrageous. Is there no lengths to which these cretins will not go?

    That this use of copyright is even worthy of being considered by the law rather than being ruled out shows the world has gone crazy.

  3. Medium Dave

    I've got a sudden urge... put a FOIA request in to the BBC and grab the new season of Doctor Who early. Worth a shot, I reckon...

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: I've got a sudden urge...

      Beat me to it, but I was planning an FOI request to Warner Brothers for a full digital copy of "The Dark Knight Rises" and a list of the torrent sites they, or their contracted third parties, monitor.....

  4. Pen-y-gors

    FOI and "personal information"

    I've had an FOI request to the Home Office for some e-mail addresses refused on the grounds that e-mail addresses are "personal information" - which I think is a moot point. Is an e-mail address (without any other related info, like a name) necesarily "personal information", or simply an address - which could be a business, an individual, a group, an officeholder etc.

    Opinions welcome as I'm drafting a reply to them at the moment.

    1. Christoph

      Re: FOI and "personal information"

      Business addresses and similar will be published anyway. If an address isn't published that's because they want it kept private. There can be various good reasons - for instance businesses may publish a switchboard telephone number but not individual direct lines, and this could be similar. An address may be used for personal messages, possibly as well as business. Email addre4sses can be used for spam, or to break into accounts.

      If an enail connects directly to a particular person, then it's not unreasonable to class it as personal information - and having an email address doesn't give everyone an automatic right to know that address and send you messages.

      Of course there's also a few cases where it is important to keep addresses private, such as stalkers.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: FOI and "personal information"

      Just request that the subject of your request send you a personal email explaining why his email address is restricted information.

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: FOI and "personal information"

      I would regard an e-mail address as potentially private unlike a street address. You get a email released under an FOI the world has it and it will have to be changed immediately.

      While it might seem to you that it is your right to have it practically it would be a bit like shoving chewing gum in a lock.

  5. Christoph

    Automatioc publication

    "The Commissioner will not accept the automatic publication of information in breach of copyright as grounds for refusing a request under FOIA,"

    So they send the information along with a note that it is copyright, and it gets automatically published before the recipient can see that note and stop the publication. Who is to blame for the copyright breach, and what redress does the copyright owner have?

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Automatioc publication

      The person/entity who published it without permission.

      1. Justicesays
        Big Brother

        Re: Automatioc publication

        I thought under the great new ruling passed down from the legal monkeys at the top of the law tree , the email itself is publishing the information (albeit, just to the recipient)

  6. Number6

    Commercially sensitive

    Perhaps the way to reduce the number of get-out attempts is to add a non-negotiable clause to all government contracts, be they at national or local level, that requires all of it to be published, preferably once the contract has started (or been awarded), and at the latest, when it has finished. Those who object to the details being made public can simply not bid for government contracts.

    The copyright one is harder to deal with, given that the copyright owner may be an individual or private company, although it by publishing the results of an FOI request, any subsequent requests for the information can simply be referred to the first one with minimal costs incurred. Obviously if it's not available to the public then this is more difficult to do.

  7. The Vociferous Time Waster


    "Sorry, I can't release that information for data protection reasons."

  8. TeeCee Gold badge

    One down......

    Now if the ICO could just do something about "contractually sensitive"........

  9. JeffyPooh

    Copyright .NE. Trade Secret

    That is all.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing in this article made sense to me, if the copyright holds commercial value it SHOULD be disclosed to public body requests but if it doesn't have commercial value the information remains undisclosed .... what???

  11. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Surrey CC

    Claims copyright on any and all releases. Several other councils do the same thing. When challenged they've stated that some parts may be copyright of third parties but declined to say which parts (they also take the absolute maximm allowed response time. I've phoned up a couple of times to find out where a response is, to be told it's all been prepared and will be mailed out when the 20 working days is up)

    The ICO's office has already stated in past correspondance that Internal phone lists and email addresses of gov organisations are business addresses and NOT personal information (ie, if there's an internal directory, it's available under FOI and anyone not on it has to justify their exemption).

    They'd like to see a few examples of refusals in order to make a few points clear to councils.

  12. Deepthroat

    Old News

    It's silly season again - the FOIA has always allowed the publication under the Act of copyrighted material. All that happens is that the copyright restrictions pass to the requester so they can't reuse it for personal gain without permission. When started up this was a common refusal and the ICO ruled at the time that such an exemption could not be used. Now, if the publication of material would breach confidentiality clauses in any contract then there may be grounds for refusal under that provided it would be an actionable breach but in general most information can be published.

    Stop this time wasting and get on with publishing

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