Open Government Data: Documents from Libraries, Museums, Public Archives

The public sector produces and preserves a significant amount of information. The accessibility and re-usability of the same by the private sector is today a strategic resource of growing and extraordinary value.

The European Parliament on 13th June last gave the go-ahead, with some changes, to the proposal for the amendment of Directive 2003/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 17th November 2003, on the reuse of public sector information.

In the cultural sector, the proposal to amend the Directive, which at this stage should be implemented in the Member States within two years, could have a major economic impact, making valuable content available for commercial use. Europe is a treasure trove of a thousand of years of culture and creation, so making its use and enjoyment freer is an opportunity that could make a difference to the Old Continent.

The wording of the new Directive is – as usual – the result of some compromises that do not make it any easier to read, however, for the publishing industry, especially the digital one, I note these points that are covered by the upcoming legislative changes:

– The reusability of documents held by public bodies should become the rule and non-reusability the exception;

– The scope of the previous Directive has been extended (with its requirement for accessibility and reusability of documents) to libraries (including those at universities), museums and public archives.

–  “To facilitate reuse, public sector bodies should, where possible and appropriate, make documents available through open and machine-readable formats and together with their metadata, at the best level of precision and granularity, in a format that ensures interoperability

– In principle, the cost of reproduction of documents to be reused and charged to users should not exceed the “marginal cost” of the reproduction in question;

– What remains strong is what is already provided in the area of “licenses”: the public may submit the reuse of documents to licensing, but the licenses must be provided in “standard” and “digitised” formats. What is important in this respect is the following principle (i.e. “Considering” in the preamble to the Directive): “(26) In relation to any re-use that is made of the document, public sector bodies may impose conditions, where appropriate through a licence, such as acknowledgment of source and acknowledgment of whether the document has been modified by the re-user in any way. Any licences for the re-use of public sector information should in any event place as few restrictions on re-use as possible, for example limiting them to an indication of source. Open licences available online, which grant wider re-use rights without technological, financial or geographical limitations and relying on open data formats, should play an important role in this respect. Therefore, Member States should encourage the use of open licences that should eventually become common practice across the Union”.

– Exclusivity agreements relating to the digitisation of analogue documents held by libraries, museums, archives, etc. should not exceed a period of 10 years (but for exclusive arrangements already in place for digitization, the Directive allows certain exemptions). In essence, after 10 years, the digitized content that is in the public domain also becomes so in digitized form.

– The Directive does not adversely affect the intellectual property rights system in force which is applicable to the documents in question (both for third party rights and those of public bodies subject to the obligations of access and reusability covered by the Directive).

Now, as we can see, the intentions are good, but we will need to see the actual methods of implementation at national level. I would remind you here that the Guidelines do not create rules which are directly and uniformly applicable in the national legal systems. The Member States need to transpose them by introducing them into their own legislation, linked to the Directive in the goals to be achieved.

For a more detailed analysis, please read Ton Zijlstra and Janssen Katleen in their blog at the Open Knowledge Foundation.


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