Free Our Data: the blog

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


Power of Information blog suggests what should be freed up; Geographic Strategy seems to agree

Over at the Power of Information Task Force blog, its chairman Richard Allan has been busy – perhaps following on from the Guardian story about the problems with derived data.

He’s got some trenchant opinions about what should be available to people (and companies?) wanting to work with geographic data for free:

All government administrative boundaries – e.g. constituencies, wards, super output areas, health authorities, school catchments etc.

All point data for the location of public service outlets – e.g. schools, hospitals, public toilets, daycare centres etc.

I can’t think of any good reasons why such data should not be declared as free for re-use in all senses of the word, i.e. that no license fee should be payable but also that no restrictions should be placed on how it is re-used so we stop worrying about Google Maps terms and conditions etc. for this class of data.

The major advantage in doing so is that anyone who wants to experiment with this data, both inside and outside government, is able to get on with innovating without having to worry about legal problems.

We, of course, agree. (We’d go further. But there’s a place and a time.)

There are many interesting comments on the post, though perhaps the most interesting comes from Robert Barr:

Street centre lines, all address points, perhaps even land parcel boundaries (I know, Land Registry not OS) could all be provided on the basis that those who cause the data to change are charged not those who use it. That ensures both a fair charge for the one off service (with some element for maintaining the servers) rather than speculative and counter productive attempts at deriving revenue from data sales.

It works for the Land Registry and the Domain Registration System on the Internet, why not OS?

The interesting point is that the recently-released National Geographic Strategy seems to hint at something similar. On page 21 (and onward) we find this:

Each dataset owner (both Core Reference Geographies and other location-related datasets) should simplify their licensing arrangements so as to facilitate the sharing of data to realise greater overall value. This is in line with the Government’s response to the Power of Information Review recommendations and with the sharing arrangements required for INSPIRE.

Although that’s then ameliorated by the next-but-one paragraph:

The simplification should take account of the trading nature of the owners of the Core Reference Geographies and should not duplicate the Government’s separate review of the pricing of public sector information by trading funds. The simplification should also ensure that Crown Copyright is protected appropriately.

We’ll have to wait to see what emerges. But it seems like an approach which sweeps away the “derived data” idea is winning through.

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