UK Public Sector Information Reuse Barcamp

January 15, 2008

Jonathan Gray has written some notes from the barcamp I attended (part of) on Saturday, about creating a web channel for public sector information (PSI) requests.

I had a few areas of interest that got touched on in discussion, but I’m not entirely sure where it got us, since I had to leave early to go ice-skating outside the Natural History Museum đŸ™‚

Where’s my license?

One of the pleasant surprises for myself (and several others at the barcamp) was that most PSI is already available through an open license, the PSI license. To obtain the license, one simple visits http://www.opsi.gov.uk/click-use/, and fills in an online form. The license is (AFAIK) eternal and covers all PSI. Wonderful, but not hitherto useful, because a license you don’t know about it as much use as no license. To the Open Source techies in the room the answer is obvious: explicit information about the copyright and licensing must be included with the data whenever it is distributed.

There are strong analogues with Peter M-R’s campaign to promote licensing and copyright clarity in the publication of scientific data, but in this case it might actually happen since OPSI have a vested interest in promoting awareness of their open licenses.

Non-commercial licenses considered harmful

What license you can obtain from OPSI for PSI depends on two things; 1) whether the information was collected as part of ‘core’ government activities and 2) whether you are a commercial entity. The license is only freely reusable if the answers are ‘yes’ and ‘no’. On the first question, Michael Cross of the Free Our Data campaign made a good point: Should the government be in the business of creating value added data products at all?

The second question is the one that got my attention. The PSI license (the open one) is an attribution non-commercial type license that crucially allows re-use. The problems with applying a non-commercial constraint were forcefully made by several of the people in the room who have spent their spare time setting up awesome sites using government data, but would need to negotiate a license if they wanted to become commercial in order to offset their costs. Another good example here is Non-Governmental Organizations who are often also commercial entities, but are an essential part of the PSI infrastructure. OPSI gave the impression that they are approachable on these issues, but having a clear license would promote reuse far better than approachability.

I’ve been persuaded by Rufus on this issue – a sharealike license without restrictions on who can reuse would ensure more freedoms than an attribution with non-commercial restriction.

Finally, if this stuff floats your boat, keep a look out for the new Freedom Of Information request site from mySociety.org – we got to see a beta and it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun!

Update More coverage on the barcamp from Michael Cross.

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