Home' ALGY : ALGY Edition 23 2016 Contents THE AUSTRALIAN LOCAL GOVERNMENT YEARBOOK EDITION 23 • 131
So, what is 'open access'? What does it mean? Perhaps an
analogy might illustrate the problem that open access solves.
Local government needs to share its information with
Let's say that a local government decided to create a park
with all of the latest leisure equipment for the benefit of the
ratepayers and the general public. In fact, the council consulted
with the community about the proposed park, which was met
with nothing but keen approval. That's important, right; because
the ratepayers were funding the creation of the park! Time went
by, and after a few months, the park was built. The council was
very proud. The local residents were delighted, and they looked
forward to using the park.
But, just before it opened, the council ring-fenced the park
with 10-foot-high fences. At the entrances to the park, the
council erected equally tall steel gates and a gatehouse that
was staffed by the council 24/7. Their job was to charge people
fees to enter the park, and the fees were astronomical! If you
couldn't afford to pay, you couldn't use the park. Council even
installed an area to allow dogs to be let off their leads, but they
only permitted owners of a particular breed to use that area,
even though no such breed existed on council registers. The
community goodwill, the keen expectation, and the opportunity
for people (and their dogs) to enjoy the park all evaporated.
That's a ridiculous story, isn't it? It would never happen! Well,
perhaps it wouldn't. Yet, while councils would never manage
their real property (the park) that way, councils around Australia
manage most of their intellectual property in precisely that
way, and it's a profound waste of resources, opportunity, and
potential for innovation and economic development.
We live in an information society. We are sustained by an
information economy. Councils collectively amass and publish
enormous amounts of information and data -- intellectual property.
But, whether it is reports, information brochures, flood studies,
environmental information, or promotional material, it is almost
always procured and/or published under restrictive copyrights. All
rights are 'reserved'. That means that it's locked up behind something
more restrictive than a 10-foot fence: copyright law. The community
cannot re-use that material, even commercially -- especially
commercially -- which deprives it of the opportunity for local
economic development by innovators or prospective entrepreneurs.
To find examples of these restrictions, one need only look as
far as the copyright notice on a local government website. In most
cases, it will be 'all rights reserved', or something very similar. So, if
that's the problem, how does open access resolve it?
What is open access, and why is it important?
Primarily, 'open access' makes publicly funded information re-
usable by the community without requiring people to infringe
copyright. This is done by applying freely available, open
copyright licences, called creative commons licences. Open
access is also about avoiding restrictive and often proprietary
publication formats that don't enable re-use, like PDF. Instead,
we publish in open document formats. Applying these two
philosophies alone has the capacity to unlock a wealth of value
for the community.
Of the three levels of government in Australia, local
governments have the most critical role to play in open access
to publicly funded information. Local governments have closer
relationships with their constituents than the state, territory or
federal governments. They are more present in people's day-to-
day lives. But, most importantly, local governments are critical
sources of material that is destined for aggregation of information
into larger comprehensive materials and data released by state,
territory and federal governments. And here's the catch: the state,
territory and federal governments want to be open, too! But
in order for them to publish their open information and open
data (as is increasingly a requirement), they need to procure the
underlying information and data that they aggregate openly
-- free of copyright restrictions. They cannot, for example, take
restrictively licensed data from a number of sources, and magically
create an aggregated open dataset. They can only 'publish open'
if they 'procure open'. So, councils have an important role to
play, by ensuring that their material is open -- not only for their
communities, but for the whole, wider community.
The same issues could be said to arise with councils
and their procurement processes. When a council procures
information or data and it either ignores copyright or does not
have the copyright transferred to it, or it does not receive the
information or data that it purchases under an open licence, it
cannot supply it to another government, or to the community,
on an open basis. In fact, it's likely that it cannot exercise any of
the copyrights, such as making a reproduction or placing the
material on its website, without infringing copyright.
All rights reserved is a 'copywrong' for local government
There are other negative effects of 'all rights reserved' local
government information and data; for example, did you know
that students and teachers have to pay to re-use all rights
reserved material sourced from council websites? Our teachers
are innovators. We want them to be. We want them to use the
most current information to teach our children and students. We
want them to use our information, and the best place for them to
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