Crown copyright
Produced in partnership with Judy Nokes
Crown copyright

The following Public Law guidance note Produced in partnership with Judy Nokes provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Crown copyright
  • Historical and policy context
  • What is Crown copyright?
  • Assignment and transfer of Crown copyright
  • Management of Crown copyright
  • Delegations of Authority
  • Duration of Crown copyright
  • Copyright infringement
  • Copyright evolution

Historical and policy context

Crown copyright came into being as a result of the extensive piracy of government publications during the 19th century, ordnance maps in particular, which emphasised the need for copyright protection.

Statutory Crown copyright started with the Copyright Act 1911, and established Crown copyright in government works. It was accepted that the general taxpayer should be protected against the commercial interests of a few who would obtain private profit by unrestricted freedom to produce 'official matter'. The legend 'Crown copyright reserved' was first used in 1912.

Under the transparency agenda of the 2010-2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government, there was a recognised need to make government more open, in order to:

  1. strengthen public accountability

  2. support public service improvement by generating more comparative data and increasing user choice, and

  3. stimulate economic growth by helping third parties develop products and services based on public information

Given the government promotion of open data and transparency, the use and re-use of Crown copyright material is encouraged, and for this reason the Open Government Licence was developed. See Practice Note: Open Government Licence.

What is Crown copyright?

Crown copyright is defined under section 163 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA 1988) as ‘works made by officers or servants of the Crown in the course of their duties’. Crown copyright