EU commission to member states: Use Open Definition compliant licenses for your Public Sector Information

Last week the European Commision published Guidelines on recommended standard licences, datasets and charging for the re-use of documents. These Guidelines are intended to help member states with the implementation of the amended Public Sector Information directive that was adopted last year. With these guidelines the Commission hopes to provide ‘reference material for all institutions in all EU countries, in order to align their practices and make them more transparent and predictable for potential re-users’.

The guidelines put a lot of emphasis on the legal aspects of PSI. As part of this the Commission highlights the fact that not all documents need to be licensed, especially those that are in the Public Domain:

A simple notice (e.g. the Creative Commons public domain mark) clearly indicating legal status is specifically recommended for documents in the public domain (e.g. where IPR protection has expired or in jurisdictions where official documents are exempt from copyright protection by law).

In addition to this important clarification the Commission also provides clear recommendations for the use of open licenses:

Several licences that comply with the principles of ‘openness’ described by the Open Knowledge Foundation to promote unrestricted re-use of online content, are available on the web. They have been translated into many languages, centrally updated and already used extensively worldwide. Open standard licences, for example the most recent Creative Commons (CC) licences (version 4.0), could allow the re-use of PSI without the need to develop and update custom-made licences at national or sub-national level. Of these, the CC0 public domain dedication is of particular interest. As a legal tool that allows waiving copyright and database rights on PSI, it ensures full flexibility for re-users and reduces the complications associated with handling numerous licences, with possibly conflicting provisions. If the CC0 public domain dedication cannot be used, public sector bodies are encouraged to use open standard licences appropriate to a member state’s own national intellectual property and contract law and that comply with the recommended licensing provisions set out below.

This recommendation for the use of Open Definition compliant licenses and tools shows that the Commission has clearly understood concerns about license fragmentation that COMMUNIA and others had raised during during the legislative process that lead to the amendment of the PSI directive. In our 2012 policy paper on the proposal to amend the PSI Directive we had noted:

Instead of encouraging member states to develop and use open government licenses such as those that are currently used by the governments of the United Kingdom and France, the Commission should consider advocating the use of a single open license that can be applied across the entire European Union.

Such licenses do exist and are widely used by a broad spectrum of data and content providers. [...] COMMUNIA therefore advises the Commission to consider using an existing open license that complies with the Definition of Free Cultural Works as a pan European standard license for Public Sector Information. Appropriate licenses include the Creative Commons Zero Universal Public Domain Dedication (CC0) or the widely used Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY).

Lets hope that member states and public sector bodies will follow these recommendations and that the trend towards license fragmentation that accompanied the beginning of the open data movement has abated. In this respect it is encouraging that the list of Open Definition conformant licenses is still relatively short and only contains two licenses that have been developed specifically for a national government.

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