Thursday, January 23, 2014

Copyright vs transparency in Germany

Like most civilised states, Germany has a freedom of information law. But its now hit on a new tactic to limit transparency around sensitive or embarrassing information: abusing copyright:

The German Federal Ministry of the Interior has sent a cease and desist order to the Freedom of Information (FOI) portal [the German equivalent of FYI - I/S] for publishing a document received under the German federal FOI law. The document – a five page study written by government staff – analyses a ruling by the German constitutional court in November 2011 which declared the 5% party quota for the European Parliament elections as unconstitutional. The study concludes that setting any such quota would be unconstitutional according to the ruling. Despite this a recent change in election law set the party quota to 3%.

When the study in question was received from the Ministry of the Interior through an FOI request on, the ministry prohibited publication of the document by claiming copyright.

Naturally, they're refusing to comply. Government information is public information; they should not be able to subsequently invoke copyright to thwart the operation of their freedom of information law.

(Technically the government can do this here as well, though I've never heard of it happening, and as the Germans are about to find out, it would be pointless and result in a political defeat).

The internet knows how to beat this bullshit: trying to suppress something simply results in it being shared wider - something known as the Streisand effect. So, here are the documents; they're in German, so you can't read them, but by mirroring them you'll be helping to defend the right to freedom of information and giving the finger to the German government.