The Protection of Freedoms Act will amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 so that in the future public authorities will have greater obligations in relation to the release and publication of datasets. The key points of Section 102 of the Act (which amend section 11 of FOI) are:
- There will be a new duty on public authorities, when releasing datasets, to adhere to any request to do so in electronic form which allows their re-use where reasonably practicable.
- Any dataset containing copyright material (where the authority holds the copyright) must be made available for re-use under a specified licence.
- Publication schemes will in future contain a requirement to publish datasets, which have been requested, as well as any updated versions.
- Such datasets will also have to be published in an electronic form capable of re use and any copyright material must be available for re use in accordance with the terms of a specified licence.
- Public authorities will be able to charge a fee for allowing re use of any datasets containing copyright material.
These provisions are likely to come into force in April 2013. If you want to know more read Ibrahim Hasan’s detailed article.
A recently launched mobile phone application provides a useful insight into what could be possible if public authority datasets are fully exploited. (Read about Fearsquare).
New Draft Code and Licenses
The Government recently began an online consultation about a new set of guidance to accompany the new dataset provisions. This includes a new Code of Practice (datasets), which will sit alongside the existing Section 45 Code of Practice under FOI. The new draft code also outlines the licensing framework which public authorities must use when making copyright material within datasets available for re-use.
The new draft Code of Practice (datasets) aims to make it clear as to what is meant by the terms set out in the new provisions in the FOI Act. For example, what is meant by “an electronic form which is capable of re-use” or a “re-usable format” for the purposes of the Act.
The consultation is the first I have seen where the Government is using a “crowdsourcing” method. Responders can see, in real time, what other peoples’ views on the draft code are as opposed to submitting their views to an email address and then waiting for the summary of responses to be published after the consultation is over. The aim is to enable responders to have a conversation with each other as to whether a particular paragraph, sentence or word in the new code could be improved upon.
The new code contains three standard licences available to public authorities when allowing re use of copyright material contained in a dataset which is disclosed under FOI. The first two are the Open Government Licence and the Non-Commercial Government Licence. Both allow re use of the information without charge including copying, publishing, distributing and adapting the information as well as combining it with other information. The new code encourages authorities to use the Open Government License wherever possible. The Non-Commercial Government licence is slightly more restrictive because it contains a clause preventing the use of the information “in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.” It will be interesting to see if public authorities routinely offer this licence (even though it would be against the spirit of the Act and the new code) just to prevent the private sector from profiting from the dataset.
The third type of licence is the Charged Licence. This has been published by The National Archives in beta form . It can be used by public authorities that have reason to charge for the re-use of the dataset information they hold or produce. As I have said before, this provides an opportunity for public authorities to raise some much needed revenue. However it will be interesting to see if the Secretary of State exercises his power (under new Section 11B of FOI) to make regulations prescribing “the amount of any fee payable or providing for any such amount to be determined in such manner as may be prescribed, provide for a reasonable return on investment.
The consultation ends on 10th January 2013. Public authorities need to think now what datasets they may receive requests for and what their approach to licensing their re use will be.