Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


Tim Berners-Lee agrees: our data should be free

I’ve heard from a contributor that in a talk he gave earlier this week, Sir Tim Berners-Lee – you may recall him from films such as “Honey, I invented the World Wide Web” – agrees with the idea that Ordnance Survey data (in particular) should be available to us all, for our use, without cost. We’ll have a full piece about what he said in next week’s Guardian Technology, if you can bear to wait. (Actually, you’ll have to. Sorry.)

The interesting point about Sir Tim, of course, is that he could have patented his work in developing the hypertext protocol (what if CERN had had a requirement that workers’ ideas were patented?) and perhaps made a lot of money – although equally, the Web would not have been taken up with the same excitement if one had had to pay a licence fee for every web page served or link clicked. Sir Tim said as much in 2004 (original article seems to have disappeared.)

The content you’re looking at now is an illustration of how freeing publicly-paid and generated data – in this case, how to implement the hypertext protocol (http to you and me), developed at a taxpayer-funded particle physics laboratory – can lead to individual and commercial implementations whose value far exceeds those that could have been realised by charging.

We’re glad to know that we’re thinking along the same lines as the man who invented the Web. But can anyone think of a counter-example – of patented or copyrighted ideas around data that have been taken up on a huge scale? To win the argument for this campaign, we need to consider any counter-example.

(Note: “patented or” removed in above because we’re not talking about patents in this campaign, but about copyright walls surrounding public data, and want to focus on that. – CA)

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