Fix Crown Copyright

This page was created to support a House of Commons e-petition on Crown copyright that closed on September 23, 2017 and was tabled in the House of Commons on October 20, 2017. The petition requested that the Government of Canada respond to the longstanding need to fix Crown copyright in Canada and received almost three times the number of signatories required for certification.  

As the petitioner, I made this request as a private citizen. However, it is informed by more than 15 years of working as a professional academic librarian with specializations in government information and, more recently, copyright. This is one of the ways I am trying to address barriers to the work of my employers (over the years), support frustrated library users, and contribute to the public good. I am not claiming that this e-petition represents the views of my employer. 

On December 4, 2017, the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) and Sean Casey, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (PCH), responded to the e-petition on Crown copyright. My comments about their responses are indented, below.

The Government of Canada’s response recognized that parliamentarians will have an opportunity to revisit provisions related to Crown copyright as part of the upcoming review of the Copyright Act. However, the response also emphasizes two specific concerns related to removing the “all rights reserved” model of copyright for government works: cost recovery methods; accuracy and quality.

Cost Recovery

Both PCH and ISED state that some agencies rely on cost recovery to finance the production of government information and appear to use this as a rationale for maintaining Crown copyright.

Assuming a cost recovery model is justified for commercializing government works (and I am not suggesting that it is), what is the rationale for enforcing copyright to limit the use of government works that have been published and distributed at no cost, and what is the rationale for continuing to enforce copyright to limit the use of government works that have been made commercially available after the costs of producing that content have been recovered? If cost recovery is the rationale for retaining Crown copyright in works, then why not make openly available all works that never have been or are no longer being distributed commercially on a cost-recovery basis?

Accuracy and Quality

Both PCH and ISED mention the complex nature of Crown copyright, but do not explain how it is any more complicated than copyright for other works. They go on to state that there is a need to “strike a balance” between access to information needs and “other public interest considerations.” Quality and accuracy are listed as those other public interest considerations.

Copyright is not a tool for ensuring accuracy or quality. Copyright does not address quality issues in any way and the only way copyright protection ensures accuracy of the original in subsequent reproductions is if that mechanism somehow allows for the complete control of every instance of distribution of the work and prevents any subsequent modifications, adaptations, or translations. Not only is this type of gatekeeper overreach impossible in an online environment, it would also be illegal (see Section III of the Copyright Act, Exceptions to Infringement) and is clearly at odds with the aims of Open Government.

Open Government

Both PCH and ISED reaffirm a commitment to Open Government. The Open Government Declaration prioritizes the need for access to government information and the Open Government Partnership references a definition of “open” as being material that can be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone.

Regarding the cost recovery rationale, a fee-based access model for government information is at odds with the moral imperative of governments to provide barrier-free access to (non-sensitive) government information. Furthermore, taxpayers have already paid for the production of this information and shouldn’t have to pay twice for access to it, or for the ability to reuse that content.

It should also be noted that paying for government information has not, in the current regime, resulted in the removal of barriers to the reuse of those works.

Regarding the accuracy and quality rationale, this is difficult to distinguish from the sort of controls that are antithetical to the principles of Open Government.


Both PCH and ISED speak of the role of Crown copyright in striking a balance, which is at the core of copyright law. The exceptions to infringement found within the Copyright Act are intended to provide a balancing mechanism between the needs of rights holders and the public good. This makes sense when economic protections and rights are of paramount importance. With respect to government information, a more relevant balance, between access and security, is achieved through freedom of information legislation, not through the enforcement of Crown copyright.

Conversations generated by this process have been inspiring. It was especially rewarding to hear directly from supporters in the private and government sectors, given that much of the evidence we were working with was based on the experiences of those in post-secondary environments. 


Let's hope this work, combined with new writing on the topic and the support of stakeholders like CAUT (see the Fair Copyright campaign), Creative Commons Canada, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), and the Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA) will help make the case that Crown copyright reform needs to be undertaken during the upcoming review of the Copyright Act. It is imperative that residents have access to and librarians are able to remain stewards of government information in the digital age, without unnecessary restrictions and barriers. 



SHOUT for Libraries. Canadian Copyright. CJSR Podcast, January 19, 2018.

CAUT. The case for balanced copyright. Bulletin, December 2017.

Wakaruk, Amanda. Opinion: Government belongs to the people; so should its documentsEdmonton Journal, June 3, 2017.

University of Alberta Libraries. A Simple Fix for Cringeworthy Crown Copyright. University of Alberta Libraries News. September 13, 2017

Background Information

Canada is one of many countries stating a commitment to Open Government. It is also, conversely, one of a decreasing number of countries to retain a legal provision that gives the government the sole right to reproduce and distribute works produced for public consumption. For example, the vast majority of federal US government works are in the public domain (i.e., not protected by copyright and thus available for the public to re-use without permission). 

Decades of stakeholder requests to abolish or at least update the Crown copyright provision in the Copyright Act have been largely ignored. This has resulted in a barrier to the re-use of government publications prepared for and paid for by Canadian taxpayers. For example, the refusal of government departments to allow for the copying of content made freely available on their web sites, and then deleted from those same sites, resulted in the loss of countless digital government works in recent years. (Note that very few government publications continue to be produced in paper.) 

Removing copyright protection from government works made available to the public will allow individuals, corporations, and other organizations to make better use of these important resources. It will also allow librarians to continue their role as stewards of government information in a digital world.

There is a 250 word limit on e-petitions, so the petition text on the linked web site might seem a bit terse. Additional details about the need for your support of this e-petition are provided below. 

Details about this e-petition on Crown copyright 

This e-petition was created to bring a longstanding problem with Canada's current Copyright Act to the attention of Members of Parliament (MPs) as they begin a scheduled review of the Act later this year. Similar changes and/or reviews of this provision have been requested for over 30 years. Sadly, this is an issue without wealthy stakeholders (and thus few, if any, dedicated lobbyists).

Full text and context for the e-petition on Crown Copyright (e-1116)


Canadians have a right to use and re-use works produced by their government. Unfortunately, because of our outdated system of Crown copyright, such uses are unduly restricted. See s.12 of the Copyright Act (also below for ease of reference).



  • access to government information and the ability to distribute and encourage its re-use is of fundamental importance to a democratic society, as noted in the Reproduction of Federal Law Order, SI/97-5,

  • the Government of Canada is committed to open government principles (, which support the broad and unfettered dissemination of government information,

  • the Government of Canada believes that (commercial) exploitation of IP contributes to economic growth and job creation, and that such exploitation is best achieved outside of government (as noted in TBS Policy, which seems to indicate a willingness for those outside government to use government information without first asking for permission,

  • academic library projects to preserve and provide access to government works have been delayed or prevented due to confusion over Crown copyright (e.g., Canadian government publications restricted in HathiTrust, hundreds of hours spent trying to obtain permissions, only some of which were successful, etc.); see Wakaruk (2016), noted in the Resources section, below,

  • current interpretations of existing government terms of use and government licences by government employees are inconsistent and confusing, especially since the closure of the Crown Copyright Licensing program in 2013 (, see also; hopes that open licences would improve re-use have been unfounded, as noted in Freund and How (2015) in the Resources section, below,

  • objectives of copyright law do not apply to publicly disseminated government works given that such works are created by public organizations for the benefit of the public (as per the Supreme Court of Canada in Théberge v. Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain and CCH v. LSUC, which state that the objective of the law is to balance the incentivization and rewarding of creators with the encouragement of disseminating works in order to benefit society); put another way, why do governments need economic protections to encourage the production and dissemination of publications that are produced to inform Canadian residents and citizens about the programs and services of their own government?,

  • the Government of Canada almost never pursues Crown copyright infringement claims (e.g., see Sessional paper 8555-412-57, tabled December 4, 2013, House of Commons),

  • not all government works are intended for broad dissemination, which is why this e-petition is not calling for the outright abolishment of Crown copyright, even though this is a laudable goal and has been recommended by legal experts,

  • some works published by government agencies are authored or prepared by third parties, which might restrict them from being distributed outside of government,

  • the Reproduction of Federal Law Order is limited to federally-constituted courts and administrative tribunals, which means it is unhelpful when librarians, journalists, citizens, or corporations want to reproduce government works that are not part of the federal law (e.g., statistical and annual reports, maps, policy papers, etc.),


We the undersigned call upon the House of Commons to add Section 12.1 to the Copyright Act:

12.1 Works noted in section 12 are no longer protected by copyright upon being made available to the public.

Resources that informed the e-petition text, above (in addition to numerous personal conversations with legal and copyright experts)


Additional Background Information

Where copyright belongs to Her Majesty

12 Without prejudice to any rights or privileges of the Crown, where any work is, or has been, prepared or published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or any government department, the copyright in the work shall, subject to any agreement with the author, belong to Her Majesty and in that case shall continue for the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work and for a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year.

  • There is increasing support for the removal of copyright monopolies for works produced “by the people, for the people.”

Article 1.2, is included in the (model) European Copyright Code, drafted by European legal scholars:

Art. 1.2 – Excluded works

The following works are not protected by copyright:

a. Official texts of a legislative, administrative and judicial nature, including international treaties, as well as official translations of such texts;

b. Official documents published1 by the public authorities2.

1The term ‘published’ does not imply that a work must formally have been published in an Official Journal or equivalent. However, secret or confidential information can not be considered as ‘published’.

2As to ‘official’ works by private authors, these will be protected until they become ‘official’. Also, questions of moral rights could still arise despite the exclusion.

Paragraph 9.38, Recommendation 4 of the Australian Copyright Law Reform Review Committee's Report on Crown Copyright:

9.38 The Committee recommends that copyright should not exist in certain materials, whether published or unpublished, as outlined below.

Recommendation 4: The Committee recommends that copyright in certain materials produced by the judicial, legislative and executive arms of government be abolished. Those materials are:

• bills, statutes, regulations, ordinances, by-laws and proclamations, and explanatory memoranda or explanatory statements relating to those materials;

• judgments, orders and awards of any court or tribunal;

• official records of parliamentary debates and reports of parliament, including reports of parliamentary committees;

• reports of commissions of inquiry, including royal commissions and ministerial and statutory inquiries; and

• other categories of material prescribed by regulation.


  • Official works of the federal government of the United States are not protected by copyright (and have not been for many years):

Copyright Law of the United States

Section 105, Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works

Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.


  • Crown copyright was not deemed a priority during the last review of the Copyright Act but it needs to be one during the 2017/2018 review if libraries are going to continue to act as stewards for government works.

Recent history of attempts at Crown copyright reform*:

  • 1984 white paper recommended that guidelines be created to prevent unduly restrictions to public access to government works. [relevant excerpt available here]

  • 1985 report of the Sub-Committee of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Communications and Culture on the Revision of Copyright recommended that, “Crown copyright be abolished for some categories of materials and that the scope be greatly restricted for other categories.”

  • 1995 report from the Information Highway Advisory Council advocated that federal government information be in the public domain by default.

  • 2005-2006: not a priority on the copyright reform agenda.


*Adapted from Judge, Elizabeth F. “Crown Copyright and Copyright Reform in Canada.” in Geist, Michael, ed. In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law. Toronto [Ont.]: Irwin Law, 2005.

Thank you for visiting this site.  


Amanda Wakaruk, Copyright Librarian (
Bachelor of Commerce (1996), Master of Library and Information Studies (1999), Master of Environmental Studies (2009)

Last updated: January 22, 2018
The image at the top right of this page is used courtesy of Kim Kemmer.