This House would not fund any work that is not released under a creative commons license

A creative commons license is a kind of copyright license that gives people the right to use, share, and expand upon a creator’s work whether this is an art work, a piece of literature, or a scientific or academic material.[1] It offers a significant protection against accusations of copyright infringement and is believed by some to offer artists flexibility they may desire. However it also erodes artists’ control of their work because it can be reused without permission meaning it may be used in contexts which the original creator may not have envisaged or approve of.[2]

Attendant in all this is the additional issue of how the government should license work that it commissions. Work for government is almost by definition being carried out for the people in one form or another so should all work done by government have a creative commons license and therefore be open to those people? The state engages in a lot of work that is licensed; it funds art, and culture (usually only in part) but the state also funds scientific and academic research, the creation of large amounts of software, the creation of large data resources, the development of weapons systems, for all creative commons licencing could apply but in some cases it may not be wise to do so.

Some governments, such as the United States already go part way towards making work they fund available to the public. Any “government [that] work is prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person's official duties” is in the public domain. Which means they are similarly open to reuse and reproduction as if they were creative commons.[3] However it is notable that this does not apply to works produced by government contractors or by institutions that are largely or fully funded by government such as the Smithsonian which this motion includes.[4]

[1] ‘About’, Creative Commons, accessed 6 June 2013

[2] This is not a question for this debate ‘This House believes that all literature, art, photography, film and music should be released under creative commons licences’ goes into a bit more detail although there is a lot of crossover with this debate.

[3] ‘Copyright and Other Rights Pertaining to U.S. Government Works’,, 5 June 2013,

[4] ‘US government works: everything isn’t copyright free’, Public Domain Sherpa, 2013,


If the public funds a product it belongs to them

Everyone benefits and is enriched by open access to resources that the government can provide. A work is the province of its creator in most respects, since it is from the mind and hand of its creator that it is born. But when the state opts to fund a project, it too becomes a part-owner of the ideas and creation that springs forth. The state should thus seek to make public the work it spends taxpayer money to create. This is in exactly the same way that when an employee of a company creates something presuming there is the correct contract the rights to that work go to the company not the employee.[1]

The best means for doing this is through mandating that work created with state funding be released under creative commons licenses, which allow the work to be redistributed, re-explored, and to be used as springboards for new, derivative works. This is hampered by either the creator, or the government, retaining stricter forms of copyright, which effectively entitles the holder of the copyright to full control of the work that would not exist had it not been for the largesse of society. If state funded work is to have meaning it must be in the public sphere and reusable by the public in whatever form they wish. Simply put taxpayer bought so they own it.

[1] Harper, Georgia K., ‘Who owns what?’, Copyright Crash Course, 2007,


There is a difference between the general public and the government. It is the government that bought the rights to the work not the people even if the people are the ones that originally provided the money to develop the work by paying their taxes. It can be considered to be analogous to a business. Consumers pay for the products they buy and the profits from this enable the business to make the next generation of products. But that the consumers provided the profit that enabled that development does not enable the consumers to either get an upgrade or for the product to be released with a creative commons license

The default of copyright restricts the spreading of information

Current copyright law assigns too many rights, automatically, to the creator. Law gives the generator a work full copyright protection that is extremely restrictive of that works reuse, except when strictly agreed in contracts and agreements. Making the Creative Commons license the standard for publicly-funded works generates a powerful normalizing force toward a general alteration of people’s defaults on what copyright and creator protections should actually be like. The creative commons license guarantees attribution to the creator and they retain the power to set up other for-profit deals with distributors, something that is particularly useful for building programs that need to be maintained.[1] At base the default setting of somehow having absolute control means creators of work often do not even consider the reuse by others in the commons. The result is creation and then stagnation, as others do not expend the time and energy to seek special permissions from the creator.

By normalizing the creative commons through the state funding system, more people will be willing to accept the creative commons as their private default. This means greater access to more works, for the enrichment of all. The result is that a norm is created whereby the assumption is that information should be open and shared rather than controlled and owned for profit by an individual or corporation. All governments recognise a right to freedom of information as part of freedom of expression making it the government’s responsibility to provide access to public information[2] and many are enabling this through creating freedom of information acts.[3] This is simply another part of that right.

[1] ‘About The Licenses’, Creative Commons, 2010,

[2] ‘Access to public information is government’s responsibility, concludes seminar in Montevideo’, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 8 October 2010,

[3] See ‘This House believes that there should be a presumption in favour of publication for information held by public bodies


Is it really in the public interest that there should be a norm that government information should be shared? There are clearly some areas where we do not want our government to share information; most clearly in the realm of security,[1] but also where the government and through them taxpayers can make a profit out of the product that the government has created. If the government creates a new radar system for the navy does it not make sense that they should be able to sell it at a profit for use by other country’s shipping? Also, the abundance of piracy online is not a reason to submit to the pirates and give them free access to information they should not receive.

[1] See ‘This House believes transparency is necessary for security

Creative commons allows existing work to be used as a building block by others

The nature of the internet and mass media is such that many creators can benefit from the freedom and flexibility that creative commons licenses furnish to them. Creative commons provides vast benefits in allowing a creation to have life after its funding has run out or beyond its original specifications. Creative commons means that the original work can be considered to be a building block that can simply be used as a foundation for more applications and modifications.

For example in many countries government has for decades produced official maps for the country but these can only be irregularly updated – often with a new release of a paper map. However the internet means that maps could easily be regularly updated online by enthusiastic users and volunteers as things change on the ground if those maps were available under creative commons. This is why applications like openstreetmap or google maps (which is not creative commons but can be easily built upon by creative commons projects) are now much more successful than traditional mapping and has often forced government map providers to follow suit such as the UK’s Ordnance Survey making many of its maps free and downloadable.[1] It is important to recollect that those operating under a creative commons license still maintain control of the marketable aspects of their work and can enter into deals for the commercial distribution of their works.[2]

[1] Arthur, Charles, ‘Ordnance Survey launches free downloadable maps’, The Guardian, 1 April 2010,

[2] ‘About The Licenses’, Creative Commons, 2010,


The choice to release work into the viral market is a business decision creators should have the power to choose, not a mandated requirement for funding. Some may decide that they will profit and gain more recognition through releasing their work into the creative commons, others may not. It should be remembered that Ordinance Survey was originally mapping for military purposes rather than for the general public so it might very well have decided that there is no reason to have its data open to the public and it would pose no benefit to enable to public to use that data for modification. 

Government, like everyone else, should be able to profit from its work, that profit benefits its citizens rather than harming them

We generally accept the principle that people who create something deserve to benefit from that act of creation as they should own that work.[1] This is a principle that can be applied as easily to government, whether through works they are funding or works they are directly engaged in, as to anyone else. The owners of the work deserve to have the choice to benefit from their own endeavours through having copyright over that work. Sometimes this will mean the copyright will remain with the person who was paid to do the work but most of the time this will mean government ownership. Public funding does not change this fundamental ownership and the quixotic bargain state funding in exchange for mandatory creative commons licensing is a perversion of that ownership.

The Texas Emerging Technology Fund is an example of the use of state funding in the private sector to produce socially useful technologies without thieving the ownership of new technologies from their creators.[2] Moreover states clearly benefit from being able to use any profit from their funding. It would clearly be in taxpayers interest if the state is able to make a profit out of the investments that taxpayers funding creates as this would mean taxes could be lower.

[1] Greenberg, M. ‘Reason or Madness: A Defense of Copyright’s Growing Pains’. John Marshall Review of Intellectual Property Law. 2007.

[2] Office of the Governor. ‘Texas Emerging Technology Fund’. 2012,


Government is quite simply not ‘like everyone else’. If government acted like a profit maximising business it would clearly have the ability to turn itself into a monopoly on almost everything. This is why the role of government is not to make a profit but to ensure the welfare and freedoms of its citizens. 

Creative commons is not a good option for many government works

It is simply wrong to paint all government funding with one brush decreeing that it should only be spent if the results are going to be made available through creative commons. Governments fund a vast diversity of projects that could be subject to licensing and the pragmatic approach would be for the government to use whatever license is most suitable to the work at hand. For funding for art, or for public facing software creative commons licences may well be the best option. For software with strong commercial possibilities there may be good financial reasons to keep the work in copyright, there have been many successful commercial products that have started life being developed with government money, the internet being the most famous (though of course this is something for which the government never made much money and anyway the patent would run out before it became big).[1] With many military or intelligence related software, or studies, there may want to be a tough layer of secrecy preventing even selling the work in question, we clearly would not want to have creative commons licensing for the software for anything to do with nuclear weapons.[2]

[1] Manjoo, Farhad, ‘Obama Was Right: The Government Invented the Internet’, Slate, 24 July 2012,

[2] It should however be noted that many governments do sell hardware and software that might be considered militarily sensitive. See ‘This House would ban the sale of surveillance technology to non-democratic countries


While there will be a few cases where it is undesirable that things that the government pays the funding for to be licensed through creative commons this should not stop creative commons from being the default choice. Creative commons is a good choice for the vast majority of what government does as weapons systems and other security related items are only a small part of government investment. Think of all the IT systems for government departments, it clearly makes sense that they should be creative commons so that they can be improved and adapted when it turns out they don’t work in quite the way they were designed. For example the UK government wasted £2,7billion on an IT project for the NHS,[1] in such a situation it would have made a lot of sense to have what was done open to others to pick up on and build upon if there was any of the software that could be of any use.

[1] Wright, Oliver, ‘NHS pulls the plug on its £11bn IT system’, The Independent, 3 August 2011,

Creative commons prevents the incentive of profit

The incentive of profit, rather than a creative productive drive, spurs the creation of new work. Without the guarantee of ownership over one’s work, the incentive to invest time and effort in its creation is significantly diminished. When the state is the only body willing to pay for the work and offers support only on these strict terms, there will be less interest in being involved with that work. Within a robust copyright system, individuals feel free to invest time in their pursuits because they have full knowledge that the fruits of their efforts will be theirs to reap.[1] If their work were to immediately leave their control, they would be less inclined to do so.

The current copyright system that is built on profit encourages innovation and finding the best use for technology. Even when government has been the source of innovation those innovations have only become widespread when someone is able to make a profit from it; the internet became big when profit making companies began opening it up. If the government wants partnerships with businesses, or universities that are not directly linked to government then it has to accept that those partners can make a profit. Furthermore, the inability of others to simply duplicate existing works as their own means they too will be galvanized to break ground on new ideas, rather than simply re-tread over current ideas and to cannibalize the fecund ground of creative commons works.

[1] Greenberg, M. ‘Reason or Madness: A Defense of Copyright’s Growing Pains’. John Marshall Review of Intellectual Property Law. 2007.


The government should not be interested in the profit motive but what is best for its citizens which will usually mean creative commons licenses rather than the state making a profit. This is even more likely when developments are a joint project with a for profit operation; taxpayers will rightly ask why they should be paying the research costs only for a private business to reap the profit from that investment. The government already provides a leg up to businesses in the form of providing infrastructure, a stable business environment, education etc., it should not be paying for their R&D too. 


Arthur, Charles, ‘Ordnance Survey launches free downloadable maps’, The Guardian, 1 April 2010,

‘About’, Creative Commons, accessed 6 June 2013

‘About The Licenses’, Creative Commons, 2010,

Greenberg, M. ‘Reason or Madness: A Defense of Copyright’s Growing Pains’. John Marshall Review of Intellectual Property Law. 2007.

Harper, Georgia K., ‘Who owns what?’, Copyright Crash Course, 2007,

Manjoo, Farhad, ‘Obama Was Right: The Government Invented the Internet’, Slate, 24 July 2012,

‘Texas Emerging Technology Fund’. Office of the Governor, 2012,

 ‘US government works: everything isn’t copyright free’, Public Domain Sherpa, 2013,

‘Access to public information is government’s responsibility, concludes seminar in Montevideo’, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 8 October 2010,

 ‘Copyright and Other Rights Pertaining to U.S. Government Works’,, 5 June 2013,

Wright, Oliver, ‘NHS pulls the plug on its £11bn IT system’, The Independent, 3 August 2011,