FOIMan writes about the relationship between copyright and freedom of information.

Practitioners and others often get confused about the way that copyright interacts with FOI. In this piece for the Freedom of Information Journal, I attempt to provide some clarity. In summary, whilst public authorities retain copyright in much of the information that they disclose, it will often be difficult for them to prevent requesters and others from re-using disclosed data.


  1. Most of the more “problematic” or time-intensive copyright issues I come across as a WhatDoTheyKnow volunteer involve third party copyright. (We still get very occasional issues with public authorities balking at automatic poison of their material, but not as many as when our service was newer.)

    Examples of third party copyright issues include:

    companies that sell their form designs to public authorities. Some companies design forms (paper or electronic) for statutory and other functions performed by statutory authorities, and sell them to authorities for a price. Where such are released by public authorities in response to a FOI request, and the company spots them, they can be upset at the publication of their forms for free.

    Another: there are companies that sell contract wording, they can be upset if contacts released by public authorities results in publication of some of that wording for free;

    Or sometimes companies whose business isn’t to do with the provision of wording can object when copies of contracts with local authorities, written by them, are released to the public as they consider such their own intellectual property.

    So it’s not just the public authority’s copyright that may have a bearing on release or publication under FOI, third party publication is also an issue.

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