Design by Ben Crothers of Catch Media CC BY 2.5

Big news from the Australian Federal Government on the issue of access to public sector information (PSI).

CCau followers will remember the Government 2.0 Taskforce report released in December last year, which gave Creative Commons a very big tick as the licensing model of choice for Australian PSI. The Federal Government’s official response to the report was released yesterday and is generally positive, with the Federal Government agreeing (at least substantially) to 12 of the 13 recommendations to come out of the report.

The response, which was released by the Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner via the Australian Government Information Office (AGIMO) blog, includes a commitment to the development of a comprehensive set of IP guidelines covering all Australian Federal agencies developed by the new Information Commissioner. These guidelines will, in principle, follow the Gov 2.0 recommendations that PSI should:

  • be by default free, open, and reusable;
  • be released as quickly as possible;
  • only be withheld where there is a legal obligation preventing its release;
  • be discoverable and accessible by a central government portal; and
  • when it becomes available for public access under the Archives Act 1983, will be automatically licensed under an appropriate open attribution licence.

The response also includes a number of other CC relevant undertakings, including a commitment to a review of Australian law regarding orphan works by the Attorney-General’s Department, as well as the publication in the next few months of a “declaration of open government” stating that:

  • using technology to increase citizen engagement and collaboration in making policy and providing service will help achieve a more consultative, participatory and transparent government
  • public sector information is a national resource and that releasing as much of it on as permissive terms as possible will maximise its economic and social value to Australians and reinforce its contribution to a healthy democracy
  • online engagement by public servants, involving robust professional discussion as part of their duties or as private citizens, benefits their agencies, their professional development, those with whom they are engaged and the Australian public. This engagement should be enabled and encouraged.

Regarding the Gov 2.0 Recommendations 6.3-6.6, which state that Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) should be the default licence for PSI, the report provides “agreement in principle,” undertaking that the IP Guidelines will not “impede the default open licensing position proposed in recommendation 6.3.” CC BY is rapidly becoming the licence of choice for Australian PSI, and the fact that the report, the announcement and the entire AGIMO blog are all under a CC BY licence is a good sign. The response also makes much of the National Government Information Licensing Framework (GILF) as an important tool in assisting government agencies in making information licensing decisions. GILF, a collaborative project between the Queensland Government and the Queensland University of Technology which is recognised internationally as a leader in the area, recommends and endorses the use of CC licences as the core of its model for the sharing of PSI.

This is the single biggest commitment to open access principles by the Australian Federal Government, and should mean that the majority of Australian government material will soon be available under open licences, hopefully with a CC basis. The assignment of responsibility for implementation of the commitment to the new Information Commissioner is also an encouraging move, and will hopefully see a more coordinated approach to IP policy across the Australian government as a whole.

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