Globally, there is a shift in thinking about how governments manage and make available the public sector information (PSI) that they produce. Increasingly, it is being realised that the release of public materials on terms and in formats that permit and enable use and reuse will deliver economic and social benefit, as well as drive innovation. This was recognised in the Australian Government’s recently released Australia’s Digital Economy: Future Directions paper and the Powering Ideas report.
The concept of “open access” means access on terms and in formats that clearly permit and enable such use and re-use by any member of the public. This is broader than simply providing mere access to material, which permits only reading of the material or limited non-commercial use. Because open access can facilitate use and re-use of government information, it can drive innovation in the digital economy and generate real economic and social benefits. It allows anyone with an innovative idea to add value to existing public sector information for the common good, often in initially unforeseen or unanticipated ways.
The reason that open access is important is that, without an express statement that public use and re-use is permitted, applicable law (in this instance, primarily copyright law) and the limited scope of standard licensing requires that companies and the public ask for permission before mashing up data. This includes Australian government materials because Australian law (unlike US law) recognises Crown copyright. This can create barriers and frictions to use and reuse that limit the economic and social benefit that may otherwise result from a more flexible approach.
International trends towards a more open approach to public materials that we are aware of include:
- The OECD “Recommendation of the Council for Enhanced Access and More Effective Use of Public Sector Information” which forms part of the OECD policy framework — Shaping Policies for the Future of the Internet Economy – that supports the Ministerial Declaration (referred to as the Seoul Declaration). The Seoul Declaration was agreed to at the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Future of the Internet Economy. The Recommendation was adopted by the OECD Council, including Australia. The Seoul Declaration outlines the basic principles that will guide further development of the digital economy. The Recommendation states:
“In establishing or reviewing their policies regarding access and use of public sector information, Member countries take due account of and implement the following principles, which provide a general framework for the wider and more effective use of public sector information and content and the generation of new uses from it…”