Statement of IP Principles for Australian Government Agencies

Last year Linux Australia put in a response to an Australian Government review of their IP principles. Our response was largely based on the idea that the terms under which Government IP and maintained should be done so with the best public good in mind. We suggested that in the case where the IP was not to be commercialised (such as some CSIRO and NICTA commercial ventures) that they consider clear and open licenses (such as Creative Commons for content and Open Source licences for software), reduced complexity of access to IP (easily searchable and downloadable online rather than having to send a request which takes both time and money for every request), and storing data in Open Standards data formats to ensure sustainable long term access to Government IP.

They have just released their final statement of IP principles for the Australia Government, and although I am still working through it there are both some good and difficult points about it. The press release states:

“Government agencies will have to be responsive to opportunities for the commercial use of IP by the private sector. Sometimes it is appropriate for Government to maintain public ownership of IP such as crucial defence or national security IP.

“In other cases, agencies should consider the benefits for innovation and employment, particularly in the information technology sector, of enabling the government contractors who developed the IP to commercialise it.” – Attorney-General Philip Ruddock

I’m glad our Attorney General sees but two uses of Government IP. Commercialise inhouse or allow others to commercialise. How about the crazy notion that some Government IP should be available to the public? Government already does this in some cases and there is a lot of Government information that absolutely should be freely available to the public.

There is obviously a desire to learn how to better share Government IP:

“Agencies should encourage public use and easy access to copyright material that has been published…”

However there is also a strong bent towards commercialisation of IP, protectionism, and the responsibility of agencies to commercialise wherever possible, which although important for a number of agencies that commercialise some IP, also inhibits a realistic approach to sharing publicly funded IP. Recently the ABS started sharing their data where they used to exclusively sell it and they appear to be doing better for it. Software in particular is created and reinvented right throughout Government, and for the sake of sustainable and useful IP, much of this could be open sourced for both public use and inter-Governmental collaboration. Hopefully more Government agencies will start to realise that the real value of at least some Government data is in the sharing and use of it by Australian citizens, and that by locking up Government IP, they are doing the people of Australia a disservice.

The people’s data should be accessible by the people…

One thought on “Statement of IP Principles for Australian Government Agencies”

  1. Not only does open sourcing make code available for all Australians but it protects it against the code being bought and removed from use by foreign (or Australian) companies.

    I don’t think a one-off payment for code that is successful is adequate compensation to the taxpayers who funded its development. This is just another way that Australians lose their intellectual capital. Better to share the code with everyone and thereby keep it for the country … not a contradiction in this case.

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