Prosecuted for publishing public information

A reader of the blog has pointed out that Crown Copyright is again being used as a means of stopping the free flow of public information.

Craig Murray, former ambassador to Uzbekistan, received several documents from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office under the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts. He posted these on his website and has now received letters from the FCO threatening him with a lawsuit for violating Crown Copyright.

The whole point of freedom of information is to increase the dissemination of official information to the public. It is meant to make government more open and accountable to the people. In effect, it transforms Britain from a secretive, feudal society to a government by and for the people.

I have long argued that we cannot have real freedom of information until Crown Copyright is abolished. The situation with Mr Murray shows clearly why we must abolish these restrictive copyrights as they can easily be used by a government to control the flow of information and withhold all that which they find disagreeable or embarrassing. It is worth pointing out that such an abuse of power could never happen in the United States where, for precisely this reason, any information created or maintained by a public servant cannot be copyrighted.

If an FOI request has been accepted once, then logically it should be accepted every time. In other words, any document released under FOI is de facto in the public domain. The government looks ridiculous trying to argue otherwise.

An article in today’s Guardian:
Former ambassador posts censored passages from memoir on website

Posting on Lenin’s Blog

6 Responses to “Prosecuted for publishing public information”

  1. A TSO says:

    I suspect the perceived problem is with the possibility of the publication of maliciously altered documents
    purporting to be UK government publications. Restriction of publication/copying is pretty standard in QA type environments.

    Are the documents available anyway? A significant percentage of demands under FOI are for documents and information already publicly available.

  2. Vaci says:

    No, the problem is the disease prevalent amongst British public servants of inventing spurious excuses for problems that don’t exist.

    If there was actually any evidence that government documents have been maliciously altered, and that it has proved impossible to refute the alterations, then that excuse *might* hold water.

  3. Stephen says:

    > I suspect the perceived problem is with the possibility of the publication of unaltered documents accurately purporting to be UK government publications. Publication of documents released under the FOI is the normal expectation.

    The documents are not available anyway. The very first category of exemption under the FOI is for “information which is [otherwise] reasonably accessible to the applicant”. This last sentence contains “information already publicly available” here: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts2000/00036–e.htm#21

  4. A TSO says:

    “The documents are not available anyway. The very first category of exemption under the FOI is for “information which is [otherwise] reasonably accessible to the applicant”. This last sentence contains “information already publicly available” here: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts2000/00036–e.htm#21

    This does not stop people gumming up the procedures with requests because they are too lazy to check availability.

    “If there was actually any evidence that government documents have been maliciously altered, and that it has proved impossible to refute the alterations, then that excuse *might* hold water. ”

    Examples of malicious misinformation are found every day in the tabloid press. (From the trivial misreporting of the London telphone number changes to the serious misrepresentation of the nature of RIPA)

  5. heather says:

    The reason for spurious reporting is that there is a substantial lack of official information availablable legitimately to both the British press and the public. In the absense of facts, what else is there but fiction? It seems the British Government prefers this sort of reporting. Those of us attempting to do journalism based on facts find it very difficult, if not impossible. Public servants refuse to conduct their business in open meetings, nor do they release even the most basic machinery of government such as registers of ALL restaurant inspections, court records, crime incident reports etc.

    The irony of this particular situation with Craig Murray is that the government has called him a liar. He has attempted to get official documents that would prove his points one way or the other and yet the government is refusing to make public the very documents that would do so. What do they have to hide?

  6. heather says:

    A sad addendum to this string.
    Craig Murray has removed the documents from his website as a result of the government’s threats to sue him for violating Crown Copyright.

    Read this very interesting article about the situation:
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/media/copyright_con_3746.jsp

    I completely agree with the author’s statement: “What is shocking about the episode is the blatant misapplication of intellectual property law. Here is a situation in which documents used to hold power to account in a vital human rights issue are suppressed by a law originally designed to ensure rightsholders may duly profit from works in which they invest time and money. Although Crown copyright does protect commercial enterprise in some instances (for example in the licensing of Ordnance Survey data, though the public value of this practice is also highly questionable), in this instance the threat of copyright infringement proceedings has been levied solely to prevent evidence of a government’s misdeeds from entering the public sphere.”

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