Not bloody likely, mate!

When making a Freedom of Information request, I always ask for the response to be sent in electronic format if possible. It’s cheaper, more convenient, and usually the form in which the information is being held anyway.

So imagine my disappointment to receive the following response from the Parliamentary Archives of the House of Commons, regarding their records management policy. A stack of paper nearly three and half inches high!

Government in action

Why, you might ask, is such a waste of paper justified? Even if the documents are not available online, surely it would still be cheaper and easier to run them under a scanner rather than churn out reams of photocopies?

Fortunately, the cover letter explains all. It turns out that:

Some of the keywords used to classify Parliamentary records […] are used under licence […] from the State Records Authority of New South Wales. The licencing arrangements do not enable us to publish this information on the Internet.

Clearly this is dangerous stuff, because they continue (my italics):

In order to mitigate the risks associated with disclosing this information and in view of the fact that in some cases the information is now only held in hard copy, we are sending the information to you in hard copy.

They are also careful to warn me against infringing the copyright of New South Wales by reproducing the documents – even though these are papers which any member of the public has a right to request.

So there you have it. Important information about how Parliament is run, created at public expense, and the only people not allowed to see it are the general public, because a small part is now owned by the Australian government!

5 Responses to “Not bloody likely, mate!”

  1. The FOI officer in Parliament does seem to be particularly officious about protecting copyright. See here: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/8/response/104

    I don’t think that is his job. The FOI act does not have anything in it about risk of future breach of copyright, does it?

  2. Chris Pawley says:

    Oo sounds like the perfect use for http://www.scribd.com/paper !

  3. TotallyUn-Pc says:

    If its been released, then why would there be any breach for anyone else?, surely that would be the Govt or agency releasing the information in the first place that commits the offence?

    Now you have it, doesn’t that make it open source?

  4. nick says:

    Re no 1 and no 3, section 50 of the Copyrights Designs and Patents Act 1988 gives an exemption from copyright protection for acts that are required by law. So a government department can’t be sued for breaching copyright simply because if complied with the FoI act.

    However, this does not take away the original copyright, so public authorities are encouraged to remind requesters that the copyright still exists. If the copyrighted material really did become “open source” on disclosure, then it would be withheld because of the impact on commercial interests.

  5. Owen Blacker says:

    Of course, you could always just OCR it and publish it and see if NSW actually sue you ;o)

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