Crown copyright

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Crown copyright is a form of copyright claim used by the governments of the United Kingdom and a number of other Commonwealth realms.


In the United Kingdom

Crown copyright applies to all works produced by the British Government, subject to the condition that the qualification "Where a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties" is met. The Crown can also have copyrights assigned to it. There is also a small class of materials where the Crown claims copyright due to Letters Patent. This material includes the King James Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer.

Prior to the 17th century, the executive - acting on behalf of the monarch, under the royal prerogative - controlled all printing, and the granting of licences to printers. During the 17th century, the Crown lost most of its rights, except with regard to the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Acts of Parliament and similar. Until 1911, there was no special status for the Crown, excepting those texts.

The Copyright Act 1911 (the 1911 Act), removed the concept of common law copyright protection from British law, and it also provided specific protection for government works for the first time. Crown copyright was defined to extend to any work prepared or published by or under the direction or control of His Majesty or any Government department. The Copyright Act 1956 (the 1956 Act) further extended Crown copyright protection by extending the definition to include every original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work made by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or a Government department; sound recordings or cinematograph films made by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or a Government department and works first published in the UK, if first published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or a Government department.

When the Copyrights Designs and Patents Act 1988 (the 1988 Act) came into force, the scope of the definition of Crown copyright was considerably reduced. Crown copyright was defined as subsisting when a "work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties". Crown copyright was also defined as subsisting "in every Act of Parliament, Act of the Scottish Parliament, Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly or Measure of the General Synod of the Church of England". All existing works in Crown copyright were continued as such.

However, some documents have Crown Copyright waived by the government, subject to certain conditions. This was introduced in a white paper in 2000 in order to improve access to government publications. There are 11 classes of copyrights for which waivers are granted. The document concerned, from Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO), is Future Management of Crown Copyright. Which documents are subject to waivers varies from time to time. The current list may be found on the official site.

Websites are reproducible unless otherwise indicated, but HMSO has stated in correspondence that they do not consider material under Crown Copyright redistributable under such licenses as the GFDL. For example, documents on the website of the Public Records Office" are subject to the following conditions:

The material featured on this site is subject to Crown copyright protection unless otherwise indicated. The Crown copyright protected material (other than the Royal Arms and departmental or agency logos) may be reproduced free of charge in any format or medium provided it is reproduced accurately and not used in a misleading context. Where any of the Crown copyright items on this site are being republished or copied to others, the source of the material must be identified and the copyright status acknowledged.

Images on this site may not be reproduced without payment of a fee to the Image Library.

The permission to reproduce Crown protected material does not extend to any material on this site which is identified as being the copyright of a third party. Authorisation to reproduce such material must be obtained from the copyright holders concerned.

The duration of Crown copyright varies depending whether material is published or unpublished. Unpublished material was originally subject to copyright protection in perpetuity. However, the 1988 Act removed this concept from British law. Transitional provisions apply for 50 years after the entry into force of the 1988 Act which mean that no unpublished material will lose its copyright protection until January 1, 2040. New Crown copyright material that is unpublished has copyright protection for 125 years from date of creation. Published Crown copyright material has protection for 50 years from date of publication. Those works protected under Letters Patent have perpetual copyright claimed over them despite being published. Works where copyright is assigned to the Crown by an author are subject to the normal term of protection for that particular type of work, for example life of the author plus 70 years for a literary work.

In Canada

Under section 12 of the Copyright Act, the government reserves its rights with respect to all documents produced by the Government of Canada.

12. Without prejudice to any rights or privileges of the Crown, where any work is, or has been, prepared or published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or any government department, the copyright in the work shall ... belong to Her Majesty and ... shall continue for the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work and for a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year

The Crown's ownership in its works is no more limited than those of any private persons. In practice, government materials are often licensed to the public for non-commerical use under the conditions that 1) due diligence is taken to ensure accuracy, 2) the source is identified, and 3) the material is not represented as an official version. Absent any licence available from the source of the material, there is no presumption that any government material is subject to such a licence.

Enforcement of this right has been relatively infrequent and so its effectiveness remains uncertain for certain materials. However, this is not true for some material. In the past few years the Crown has exercised its rights with respect to nautical maps which have been used for commerical companies for oil and gas exploration. This suggests that their right in crown copyright is likely enforceable.


In 1996 the "Reproduction of Federal Law Order"[1] was introduced by the federal government which gave permission for the public to reproduce federal legislation and regulations, as well as decisions by federally-enacted court and tribunals (eg. the Supreme Court, appellate courts). The only condition is that due diligence be taken to ensure accuracy and the document is not represented as an official version. Nevertheless, the order is only a licence to copy, thus the government can revoke future copying at its own discretion. Furthermore, the government still reserves its moral rights.

None of the provinces have introduced such a licencing scheme for their government documents. Instead, some provinces, such as Ontario, allow copying only under the condition that the document clearly acknowledges its unofficial nature and that it is labeled with the year of publication such as:

© Queen's Printer for Ontario, 20—. This is an unofficial version of Government of Ontario legal materials.

In New Zealand

Crown copyright in New Zealand is defined by Sections 2(1), 26 and 27 of the Copyright Act 1994. It covers works of the Queen in right of New Zealand, Ministers of the Crown, offices of Parliament and government departments, including works made under contract. For Crown entities and State-owned enterprises, however, regular copyright provisions apply instead.

A term of 100 years applies under Section 26(3)(b), with the exception 25 years for typographical arrangements of published material.

Section 27(1) defines a further exception to Crown copyright and copyright -- Bills, Acts of Parliament, regulations, bylaws, Hansard, tabled select committee reports, court judgments, tribunal judgments, Royal commission reports, commission of inquiry reports, ministerial inquiry reports and statutory inquiry reports do not carry any copyright, regardless of age. Section 27(1) came into effect on 1 April 2001.

Of course, the Section 27(1) exceptions apply in the original work, and do not apply in terms of new typographical editions by others, nor in annotations made by organisations such as legal publishers.

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