Having gathered some advice from colleagues, this is our draft recommendation for local councils wanting to follow a Power of Information approach:
- Ensure you have a copyright notice or a licence to tell people what they can and can’t do with your information (which is also your intellectual property). Every local authority owns its own copyrights and database rights. You are required by law (the Public Sector Information regulations) to publish the terms under which your material can be re-used.
- To minimise bureaucracy and cost it makes sense for your information to be available for people to re-use for free under a simple standard licence. The best way to do this is using the plain English “PSI Click-Use Licence”, administered by the Office of Public Sector Information.
- All you need to do is adopt a policy for your Council’s information to be licensed by “The Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office”, who also licences Crown copyright information for the government. This is explained here:
- The wording you will need for the mandate is: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/advice/psi-regulations/advice-and-guidance/psi-guidance-notes/extension-of-click-use-licence-annexb.pdf
What are the benefits for a local council in taking this approach?
- You have to publish your terms and conditions for re-use by law. This is the cheapest, easiest and best way to fulfil your statutory obligations, now and into the future. It costs you nothing and you have a long term solution for licensing your copyright material.
- Your information will be re-used by people building services in and for your local community. By allowing this to happen you are helping the community, supporting initiatives to improve education, health, the environment and economic development in your area.
- One free global licence covers all the material you specify. It is quick, simple and enabling – public services at their best!
- If everyone adopts the same approach to licensing, it will be easier for everyone to re-use local authority information – including local authorities themselves! Using the same licence across central and local government means that all our public sector information can be used together more easily and simply.
What problems do you avoid?
- Breaking the law! Councils are often monopoly information holders. If you trade in information you may encounter legal or competition issues as this is a regulated area. For example, by law you cannot enter into any exclusive agreements and you cannot unfairly discriminate between different re-users on price. If you trade unfairly and someone complains, you will be investigated by the Office of Public Sector Information – a process that will take time and cost money.
- Figuring out a price to charge. This isn’t about providing access to information, but the terms and conditions under which people can use that information. The additional cost of letting someone who already has your information, say a document from your website, go on and re-use it, is nil. It costs you nothing to allow re-use for free. This basic fact makes pricing of information re-use very hard to do.
NB If you do opt to trade, taking part in the Information Fair Trader Scheme is a good way of making sure you are doing all the right things. Meeting the standards of IFTS also takes expertise, time and resources.
We’d be interesting in any comments, both positive and negative, on adopting this approach for local government data.
Richard Allan, Task Force Chair