As in many other countries, the distribution of United Kingdom (UK) government information to citizens has been revolutionised over the last two decades, moving from largely paper based forms and publications to online provision 24/7. 

Whilst this has many advantages, there are also dangers that all information professionals should be aware of and communicate to their customers. A particular problem is fake or copycat offering access to government services such as visa applications for an inflated fee. One way the UK government has combatted this is by streamlining all government websites into a clearly signposted site, which has greatly improved the ‘citizen experience’ of using government web services online.  IFLA Government Libraries Section Information Coordinator, Jonathan Ginn covers the bases.

Crown copyright

In the UK all material produced by civil servants, ministers and government departments and agencies in the course of their work belongs to the Crown and is Crown copyright. The material covered ranges from public records, government reports and legislation to Ordnance Survey maps, government reports and official press releases, and even academic articles sponsored by government departments. 

Historically, Crown copyright was perceived as restricting access to government information to those who could afford or had access to subscription databases. Now much Crown copyright material is now available to use free of charge under the Open Government Licence (OGL), with no other licence required. The site is a gateway to access much of this information, generally without requiring a user to register.  

Where Crown copyright material is covered by the Open Government Licence, you can: 

  • Copy, publish, distribute and transmit the information 
  • Adapt the information 
  • Exploit the information commercially and non commercially, i.e. by combining it with information of your own 

Whilst Acts of Parliament are still covered by Crown copyright, since 1988 materials created for the House of Commons and House of Lords (and now also the devolved legislatures) have been protected by Parliamentary copyright. An Open Parliament Licence, similar to the OGL, permits the copying, publication, distribution, transition, adaptation and exploitation of most of this material. Once a Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes an Act, Parliamentary copyright ends and Crown copyright commences. 

Further information:

Crown Copyright (Copyright Licensing Agency)

Crown copyright – An overview for government departments (The National Archives)

Open Government Licence (The National Archives)

Jonathan Ginn
Government Libraries Information Coordinator