Probably one of the most interesting presentations from the day came from Matthew Lanauer from OpenAustralia.org. OpenAustralia.org is based on the UK site by mySociety: theyworkforyou.com. OpenAustralia.org is a non-partisan website run by a group of volunteers which aims to make it easy for people to keep tabs on their representatives in Parliament.
In his presentation, Matthew described the problems he has faced gaining copyright permission from the Australian Government to host material such as Senate debates on the website. The Australian Hansard information is Copyright Commonwealth of Australia. For this material and other information, Matthew had lodged repeated requests with the government for permission to use the material, and had not received any response. Ultimately, in relation to one set of material he received an email from someone in government claiming that the material in question was free to be used as it was considered to be in the public domain (a position contrary to the copyright statement on the material). In relation to another set of material, Matthew considered he might have an implied licence, because although the government never officially responded to his request for permission with a yay or a nay, they sent him the material he asked for after he had informed them what he intended to do with it. However, it relation to a great deal of the material on Open Australia.org, Matthew is still not entirely clear of Open Australia’s legal position.
It is a great disappointment that someone like Matthew should have to be in this situation of legal uncertainty. We have a government that claims to be committed to openness and which has commissioned such pivotal reviews as the Review of the National Innovation System (which recommended more openness in government, particularly from a copyright perspective) and yet he still have repeated copyright requests going unanswered. OpenAustralia.org is a really important project from a democratic point of view, and I really hope that the government steps up and proves much more helpful in the future.