Open the DOC Preliminary Reports

March 29, 2009 – 2:13 pm

I sent this to Minister Worth (in his Internal Affairs role) and Laurence Millar (as Government CIO) today because they both have a desire to see more open government information. Posted FYI, and I’ll update with any responses I get.

Department of Conservation do a good thing by putting preliminary reports online. However, there’s no mention of license and when poked, everything’s under Crown Copyright and permission must be sought for use. A critical element of putting things online is clarifying the use that can be made of them and a critical element of open government information is removing the permission request cycle.

A contractor to DOC, who writes reports on research, has asked for his report to be released under a Creative Commons license. The DOC lawyers replied, talking about royalties/license fees which are red herrings. DOC does not make money from site fidelity of NZ sea lions or autopsy reports from seabird by-catch. Even if they did, royalties and license fees would accrue from patent-controlled IP in inventions made during the research, not from the copyright-controlled text of reports. Releasing reports under a license that makes them useful is not the same as releasing inventions under a license that forfeits royalties.

You two have a large up-hill battle here. DOC are ahead of the game–for example, Fisheries cherry-pick preliminary reports, the most recent published report is from 2006, and you must OIA any reports not selected for publication … if you know they exist. But even ahead of the game, there’s still a way to go. A licensing policy that encourages reuse, as Keitha and her group were working on, would have helped here.

My argument for the release of government information, by the way, is around transaction costs: by forcing a request-response cycle (OIA at worst), there’s a high barrier to using the government-created information. Not all information is transformational, some will simply provide a marginal benefit. The transaction cost of communicating with a department can dwarf that benefit, meaning many NZ businesses and community projects don’t see the benefit from the government’s work that they otherwise could because of some bureaucrat’s desire to “keep control” when no control is needed.

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