Free Knowledge and Indian Government Work

Posted by Tito Dutta at Nov 26, 2016 03:25 PM |
Indian Government works are not available under free and open licenses. On the other hand a large number countries such as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Israel, Macedonia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Serbia, Spain, Taiwan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Venezuela etc. have adopted the Creative Commons and other free licenses. The works by the US Federal Government automatically go into public domain. This article promotes the idea that the Government works should be freely licensed, wherever possible and applicable.

Part 1: Free Knowledge

Free knowledge movement is a worldwide movement that creates and tries to get works under free and open licenses. It claims that knowledge is a common human property, and must be easily,  freely accessible.

While discussing the topic "Access to knowledge: a basic human right", American scientist and researcher Jack Andraka feels:

Access to knowledge is, you know, a basic human right. Knowledge should not be commoditized; it wants to be free.

The Open Definition defines the term “Open Knowledge” in Open Definition 2.0 as:

"Knowledge is open if anyone is free to access, use, modify, and share it — subject, at most, to measures that preserve provenance and openness."

 All open content must be a) available under free licenses, b) accessible as a whole, and c) should be in open format (see more details)

 A big name in the world of free content is (of course) Wikipedia, where you can use, share, remix content from the site under the Creative Commons licenses. There are many organizations, networks and groups working to get more and more content under free and open licenses such as Creative Commons (text, audio, video, image), Free and Open Source Software or FOSS (software), Open design principle (machine, engineering), Open Access (academic works) etc.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights suggests that education should be free. Right to information is also a human right and Article 27 of the declaration states:

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

These are just not possible unless knowledge /information is easily and preferably freely accessible to everyone without restrictions. If the first barrier is accessibility, i.e, not having enough digital content or information or content behind paywall, then the second barrier is its openness. Just having access to some web pages is not enough, it also requires rights like free using, sharing, remixing, Unrestricted content can be utilized in the best way.


Part 2: Indian Government Work

Indian Government websites are not freely licensed. In section 2(k) of Indian Copyright Act, 1957 the meaning of “Government work” is explained:

"Government work" means a work which is made or published by or under the direction or control of—
(i) the Government or any department of the Government;
(ii) any Legislature in India;
 . . .
Read Indian Copyright Act, section 2(c) here.

 Indian Copyright Act section 17(d) informs about the “First owner of copyright” of a Government work:

in the case of a Government work, Government shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright therein;
Read section 17(d) here.

 Section 28 is about “Term of copyright in Government works”. It states:

In the case of Government work, where Government is the first owner of the copyright therein, copyright shall subsist until [sixty years] from the beginning of the calendar year next following the year in which the record is first published.—In the case of Government work, where Government is the first owner of the copyright therein, copyright shall subsist until [sixty years] from the beginning of the calendar year next following the year in which the record is first published."
Read section 28 here

Section 52 of the act allows some “fair use” and informs how content can be used for research, education, review, criticism and some other purpose. The lengthy copyright section may be read here. However, it does not make the content free. You are not allowed to remix the work or use for commercial purpose. You can not freely use, modify, distribute it.

Now let’s have a look at a few Government websites and their license details pages.

Indian Prime Minister’s official website

In this website the copyright policy page informs:

Material featured on this website may be reproduced free of charge. However, the material has to be reproduced accurately and not to be used in a derogatory manner or in a misleading context. Wherever the material is being published or issued to others, the source must be prominently acknowledged. However, the permission to reproduce this material shall not extend to any material which is identified as being copyright of a third party. Authorisation to reproduce such material must be obtained from the department/copyright holder concerned.

 A screenshot may be seen below:

PMIndia website copyright policy

 Here-

  • “Wherever the material is being published or issued to others, the source must be prominently acknowledged.” -- this part of the policy is similar to the Creative Commons licenses, where the owner or author of a work must be given attribution.
but,
  • “has to be reproduced accurately” -- it prohibits remix or modification works,
  • “not to be used in a derogatory manner” -- it is unclear that what is “derogatory manner”! Can it be used for criticism?

 

Indian Vice President’s official website
(http://vicepresidentofindia.nic.in/website-policies)

This is similar to the Prime Minister’s website policy and does not allow remix, commercial use etc. See screenshot:

Indian Vice President website copyright policy

Indian President’s official website
(http://presidentofindia.gov.in/copyright-policy.htm)

Although the Vice President’s website allows some fair use, the Indian President’s official web portal’s license is different and does not allow to reproduce the work “partially or fully”. The copyright policy states:

This contents of this website may not be reproduced partially or fully, without due permission from The President of India, If referred to as a part of another publication, the source must be appropriately acknowledged. The contents of this website can not be used in any misleading or objectionable context.

Indian President website copyright policy

We have shown 3 example above, but it is more or less similar in all government web portals.

 


Part 3: Government works — Worldwide

It might be interesting to note that unlike India, a large number of countries publish their Government works under open licenses or public domain. We’ll discuss only a few here:

United States

  • The works by the US Federal Government automatically go into public domain.
  • The White House website and third party content such as text or speeches by the first lady are licensed under CC SA 3.0 US license. U.S.
  • On 18 June, 2013, Barack Obama and other G7 leaders endorsed the Open Data Charter. Open Data Action plan is licensed under CC0.
  • Several other works such as works created by New York State Senate, works created by the State of Virginia are also under different creative commons licenses. Details may be seen here.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Open Government License (OGL) is used for Crown Copyright works published by the UK government. Since 2001, some works by the UK government were available under the Click-Use license. This license was replaced by OGL in 2010. The first version of OGL was released on 30 September 2010. OGL is compatible with the CC licenses. OGL allows to:

  • copy, publish, distribute and transmit the Information,
  • adapt the Information,
  • exploit the Information commercially and non-commercially for example, by combining it with other Information, or by including it in your own product or application.

However,

  • Attribution must be given to with source link, which is similar to the creative commons licenses.
  • Some documents such as the British passport, military insignia, property rights, including patents, trademarks, and design rights, personal information in data don’t come under OGL.

More about the Open Government License may be seen here.

France

Russian Federation

  • Content of the website http://kremlin.ru are under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International. License policy page may be seen here. Many other Russian government works are under different open licenses, details may be seen here.

Netherlands

  •  The Dutch government official website http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/  is licensed under CC 0. All content of this website is under public domain, unless any other license is specified.

Bulgaria

Croatia

 

The Long list

More than 30 countries have adopted and publishing their works under the Creative Commons and other free licenses. Other the above mentioned countries, the list include countries like Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Guatemala, Israel, Macedonia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Serbia, Spain, Taiwan, Ukraine, Venezuela etc. Other than the counties, several international organizations such as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) endorsed the free license concept and have adopted the same. See a long list of countries using free licenses here.

 

Last line

It is unfortunate that the Indian Government works are not under free licenses, however it would be great if the Government rethinks and relicense their general content under the free licenses. This will help not only the movement, but the content itself can be utilized in a much better and broader way.

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