EXPLOITING PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION
Commission Communication to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: eEurope 2002: creating an EU framework for the exploitation of public sector information.
|Document originated:||23 October 2001
|Forwarded to the Council:||26 October 2001
|Deposited in Parliament:||4 December 2001
|Department:||Trade and Industry and the Cabinet Office (HMSO)
|Basis of consideration:||EM of 10 January 2002
|Previous Committee Report:||None
|To be discussed in Council:||No date set
|Committee's assessment:||Politically important
12.1 Public sector information is a major resource which
could be turned into a valuable asset for European citizens, businesses
and administrations. The Commission suggests that citizens and
businesses could benefit greatly from easier communication with
public administrations and from increased participation in the
democratic process. This Communication, however, focusses on the
economic and commercial benefits to the private sector.
12.2 Examples of public sector information given in the
Communication include company registers, legal and administrative
information, information from patent offices, geographical information,
including maps and road traffic reports, and the scientific, technical,
cultural and medical information which is extensively collected
by public research institutions and public archives.
12.3 Quoting from a report dated May 2000 to the Department
of Trade and Industry,
the Commission says that between 15% and 20% of the total requirement
for data in e-commerce trading is based on public sector information.
It is clearly an important economic resource with a substantial
potential for growth, which the private sector can utilise for
the development of value-added products and services.
12.4 According to a study carried out for the Commission
the United States information market, based on public sector information,
is estimated to be up to five times the size of the EU market.
Key industries have posted growth rates of 10% to 30% in the last
six years. The debate there has moved on from issues of access,
charging, copyright and resale, to more detailed questions of
implementation and common metadata.
Access to, and re-use of, Federal Government information is helped
by a clear and simple legislative framework. There is no copyright
on it and no restriction on re-use. Fees are limited to, at most,
marginal costs for reproduction and dissemination.
12.5 The Commission argues that "the availability
of reliable information products covering different Member States
is essential for all firms operating in an international environment...
[It] is also important for citizens who want to exert their rights
under the Treaties". Difficulty in exploiting public sector
information has a negative effect on the internal market as a
12.6 The Communication identifies a number of barriers
to the re-use throughout the EU of public sector information by
the private sector. They include:
- barriers that result from differences in rules and practices,
such as exclusive deals, refusals to transmit information in digital
form or a requirement to consult the information on the spot;
- pricing, with some public sector bodies using their market
power to set a very high price. Dun and Bradstreet found that,
in the year 2000, company balance sheets varied from _0.11 in
Belgium to _3.29 in the Netherlands. In one Member State, the
high price charged by the meteorological service induced a private
meteorological service provider to use information from the United
States. The Service provider also found it more economical to
build its own radar station than to buy the images from the national
- uncertainty about the conditions for re-use. The relevant
stipulations are in national laws, in administrative provisions
at regional or local level, and in specific rules defined by Ministries
for agencies or defined by the agencies themselves. In other cases
there are simply no rules, so it is hard to predict how the administration
will react to a request to use the information. The Commission
argues that there needs to be a minimum of certainty and transparency.
12.7 Practical difficulties that make exploitation at
European level particularly difficult are that it is not always
easy to find out what databases exist and to locate the information.
There are no generally available directories at European, or even
at national, level which provide an overview of the information
resources held by the public sector.
12.8 Actions which the Commission proposes could be taken
to overcome these barriers can be summarised as:
(1) harmonisation of policy across Europe, with a common set
of rules that would alleviate some of the uncertainty relating
to the re-use of data;
(2) the exchange of best practice across Europe;
(3) providing more information about data sources (metadata)
and where it can be obtained, supported by standards;
(4) support for technological projects relating to public
sector information; and
(5) prohibition of exclusive licensing arrangements for the
exploitation of public sector information.
12.9 The Commission identifies two separate issues which
need to be addressed. One is the absence of clear and consistent
conditions for the commercial re-use of public sector information.
The Commission proposes the establishment of a framework Directive
as the most effective method of encouraging re-use and the development
of value-added products and services. It believes that the removal
of barriers would act as a stimulus to the information and publishing
industry in Europe, so providing significant economic opportunities
and enhancing job creation, as well as bridging the gap between
European information industries and their American counterparts.
12.10 The other issue is that of facilitating access,
the importance of which was stressed in the replies the Commission
received to its Green Paper.
Council Directive 90/313/EEC of 7 June 1990 on the freedom of
access to information on the environment is expected to be replaced
by a new Directive currently under discussion in the Council and
Apart from this proposal, no other move to harmonise access is
envisaged by the Commission but it does propose that a Group to
Promote Digital Public Data should be set up which would also
act as a focal point for discussion of issues relating to the
re-use of public sector information and to co-ordinate policy
across the Member States.
The Government's view
12.11 In an Explanatory Memorandum signed by both Ministers,
the Minister for eCommerce and Competitiveness (Mr Douglas Alexander)
and the Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office (Mr Christopher
Leslie) comment that the Government has already made significant
strides in encouraging the re-use of Government information. They
"This followed a wide-ranging policy review of government
information policy which resulted in the Cross Cutting Review
of the Knowledge Economy published by HM Treasury in December
2000 and the earlier White Paper The Future Management of Crown
Copyright (CM 4300) in March 1999. Two of the key initiatives
which arose from the review process was the implementation of
an on-line class licence, known as the Click-Use Licence in
April 2001 and the development of an Information Asset Register.
Both of these initiatives go some way towards addressing the concerns
expressed in the Communication and could indeed provide a template
which the other Member States could follow".
12.12 The Ministers add, however:
"Although the proposals contained in the Communication reflect
the approach already adopted in the UK for information originated
by central government, there are some notable exceptions. In particular,
under the Cross Cutting Review of the Knowledge Economy government
trading funds have been granted the right, subject to central
regulatory control undertaken by HMSO, to license the material
which they originate as this is consistent with the commercial
operation of trading funds. If a Directive emerges, government
trading funds will be consulted, as well as HM Treasury, on policy
and financial implications".
12.13 We welcome this initiative and ask the Government
to press the Commission to give it a higher priority than it has
done since its 1999 Green Paper.
12.14 We now clear the document from scrutiny.
by Electronic Publishing Services for the DTI, entitled Government
information and the UK information market. Back
PIRA International, on commercial exploitation of public sector
information, dated October 2000. Back
about data sources. Back
5580/99; see HC 34-xvi (1998-99), paragraph 13 (21 April 1999). Back
10003/00; See HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 35.1 (18 July 2001). Back