Globe takes report off Scribd at Auditor-General’s request

The Globe and Mail Thursday took down a portion of the federal Auditor-General’s report that it had embedded in a news report using the internet social publishing service Scribd, after the Auditor-General’s office objected.

As a Globe blog post by reporter John Ibbitson explains, The Globe published a story about the report’s exposure of problems with Canada’s immigration system.

The story contained a conventional web hyperlink to the Auditor-General’s report, but The Globe also reposted the immigration chapter on Scribd, a service where anyone can post content, and that other major publishers such as The New York Times also use to post content.

On Wednesday morning Auditor-General Sheila Fraser’s office called The Globe and asked the paper to remove the Scribd posting. Although the report is a public document, the office asserted Crown copyright allowed it to require third parties to seek permission before reposting it.

The Auditor-General’s objection to the Scribd posting appears to have been based on the fact that content on Scribd could be altered by others. The office said it had no objection to a direct hyperlink to the report on its own web site.

On Wednesday afternoon, The Globe removed the Scribd posting and replaced it with a hyperlink to the full report on the Auditor-General’s web site.

In an e-mail thanking The Globe for complying (which the newspaper embedded in a blog posting using Scribd), Ghislain Desjardins, the Auditor-General’s media relations manager, said the office does not ask media outlets to seek permission before linking to its own website, preferring this to “a link to a third-party website over which the OAG has no control.”

But Michael Geist, Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, wrote on his blog that “the very notion that Canadians need advance permission to post a portion of government report runs counter to the Auditor General’s own efforts at government transparency and efficiency.” He suggests the government drop Crown copyright entirely and make its publications freely available under Creative Commons licenses.

In this case, it seems the Auditor-General’s office may have been mainly concerned that the portion of its report published on Scribd could be altered. But any case of a government department telling media organizations what they can and can’t do with a public report should raise some concerns.