Information about Canadian public company quarterly reports, insider trades, and more is only being made available to companies who pay a (secret) licensing fee. Individuals can access individual filings (after solving a CAPTCHA) but the information is not free for re-use nor available in a machine readable format.

Canadian securities filings are required to be posted to SEDAR and SEDI. The two sites are the Canadian equivalent of the (much better) United States service run by the SEC called EDGAR.

In the United States, users of EDGAR can easily download all of the securities filings for any (or all) companies. In Canada that information is hidden behind terms of use that prohibit that kind of bulk collection and, for SEDI, CAPTCHAs to deter programmers from harvesting the information (e.g. this filing).

Who runs SEDAR and SEDI? According to SEDAR's website, until the beginning of 2014 it was run by CDS Inc. and is now run by "a new service provider". Even the terms of use don't disclose who the provider is but it can be found with a bit of googling: "CGI Information Systems and Management Consultants Inc.". SEDAR and SEDI are both owned by the "the British Columbia Securities Commission, Alberta Securities Commission, Ontario Securities Commission and Autorité des marchés financiers".

It turns out that both SEDAR & SEDI data is available in a bulk, machine-readable format but only if you pay a licensing fee to the Alberta Securities Commission. There isn't an advertised price for the service and when I inquired a couple years ago their outsourced service provider (CDS) insisted that I needed to fill out a long form in order to get a quote. There is still no information available online and they encourage you to phone them to find out how to become a subscriber. In their annual financial statements at pg. 15 the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) disclosed that they made $136,000* from "[d]ata distribution fees" in the first quarter of 2014.

Why isn't this critical information about Canadian companies being made available to the public for free? Both SEDAR and SEDI could distribute the information (because they offer a paid service that does this) but instead they've chosen to sell the information to those who can afford it (and can navigate their byzantine purchasing process). The result is dramatically reduced access to information for the public and no innovation in the format for distributing that information (SEDAR's website is not a model for web design best practices).

What could people do if the information was made free? In 2009 I competed in the finals of Yahoo!'s student programming competition and won with a program that provides near real-time alerts about insider trading: Five years later there's still no legal way to provide this service to Canadians. Imagine what kind of other tools could be built for the Canadian investing public if the securities commissions opened up their data.

According to the ASC's financial statements, providing free licensing of SEDAR/SEDI data would forego about $500k/yr in revenue. That seems like a bargain to me. Why haven't the provincial securities regulators opened up their data and changed the terms of use for SEDAR and SEDI?

*It's possible that the $136k in licensing fees is only the ASC's share of the licensing fees. If that's the case then the true number could be up to 4x more (if income and expenses are recorded separately by the joint owners).