Open Data for Canada

One of the big problems with the online world is the lack of apparent borders in a world that has many real borders. Being next to the USA makes understanding the differences in Canada even tougher.

I worked in Education for 15 years and the number of times I ran into US assumptions on things like Canadian copyright. For example, the US has a concept of ‘Fair Use’ that doesn’t exist in Canada. Whether for education or other purposes there is no amount of a book or publication you are allowed to use without payment or permission.

This became such an issue that the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) formed a consortium to pay license fees to cover schools use of copyrighted materials. They have advocated for a ‘Fair Use’ provision in Canadian Copyright.

Another major difference between Canada and the US is the ownership of ‘public’ data. In the US, the Constitution created a government ‘of the people’ so by definition the people ‘own’ the data produced by government agencies. Canada (and most other Commonwealth nations) the government is a extension of the Crown. All contracts signed by the BC Government are “Her Majesty the Queen, in the Right of the Province of British Columbia” and the results of any work are subject to Crown Copyright.

This makes is extremely difficult to us the material produced by Canadian Governments without seeking explicit permission. That hasn’t been much of an issue but the advent of online tools that can mashup data as made the need to access and reuse data increasingly important.

On the access side, data.gov in the US has been a major initative to provide ready access to government content. In Canada, a new site datadotgc.ca attempts to do the same for Canada. And the project is asking for help with datadotgc.ca. Props to David Eaves for his great work on this topic. David will be hosting a panel at the upcoming Northern Voice conference that I’m really looking forward to.

We’re still left with the issue of permission to use, but hopefully the current sources will start to provide permissive licensing until a more broad standard can be set for all government data. Statistics Canada provides a good example of permissive licensing.

We still run into a regular problem with the online world, just because material is freely available – doesn’t mean its free to use.

Leave a Reply