Public Sector Information: What’s New?

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Under the Public Sector Re-Use Directive (2003) the European Parliament and Council introduced a minimum harmonisation of the rules and practices of Member States in relation to the exploitation of Public Sector Information (“PSI”). Some capitalised terms in this article have been adopted from the Directive itself.

PSI is any information collected or controlled by the Public Sector. This includes documents (such as circulars, maps, codes of practice, statistics etc) as well as digital content (still photographs and moving image films). This information can be used for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.

Digital content influences everyone in this digital age. However, to optimise the usefulness of digital PSI, it needs to be well publicised and accessible to the public. Public Sector organisations need to adapt to this digital age and embrace digitisation as a necessary craft to protect and use PSI in ways it has never been used before!

The Directive focuses on exploiting the economic potential PSI has in terms of job creation and aiding general economic growth. It is in line with the ideals of the European Community in that it encourages harmonisation and promotes economic recovery.

It was hoped that the original Directive would break down barriers to the re-use of PSI. Fundamentally, the original Directive never imposed any real obligation on Member States to allow the re-use of PSI:

“The challenge remains to provide an optimal legal framework to stimulate the digital content market for PSI based products and services, including the cross dimension”.

The Directive was reviewed in 2008 and then again in 2012. Despite some progress, barriers do remain in relation to access and attempts to make PSI more accessible have been made difficult by Public Sector Bodies seeking to maximise recovery costs. There appears to be a general lack of information available to people and as a result, people are not utilising the potential PSI has. The review in 2012 noted there needs to be “a change in culture”.

The proposed amendments to the existing Directive include a clear obligation on Member States to allow the re-use of PSI rather than the current general principle to promote the use of PSI. The scope of the Directive will be wider to include Libraries, Museum’s and Archives. This will not apply to other cultural Institutions such as Opera’s, Ballets and Theatre’s. Costs must be kept to a minimum and must only be higher if they are justified.

The use of the “Government Open Licence” has been widely encouraged. A Government Open Licence (which is already in use) grants very wide rights with few limitations and is seen as the next logical advancement in this area. In addition, the proposal of an independent body which is to be used by people as a form of redress is a big new development. The proposed Independent Authority will also have the task of checking compliance with the Directive. Member States will have to submit reports to the Authority on a yearly basis. Any decision of the Independent Authority will be binding upon the Public Sector concerned. The input at Union Level will hopefully bring consistency across the board in relation to the various Independent Authorities.

In conclusion, it was hoped that Member States would be able to facilitate the use of PSI through minimum harmonisation, however it has been found that this hasn’t worked. Therefore, the new changes, if adopted, will make the re-use of PSI an actual obligation. The availability of material will be wider and will hopefully act as a cataylst for growth and bring new innovative ideas to the marketplace. The independent body will act to supervise the operation of, and the compliance with, the Directive so it can finally be used as it was intended it be used.