European governments agree to open up public data

Member states of the European Union have endorsed new rules for opening up publicly-funded data to developers, businesses and citizens.

The 27 countries agreed on the rule change on Wednesday, according to the European Commission, which is behind the proposed revision of a 2003 directive on public sector information. If the European Parliament adds its stamp of approval, national governments will then transpose the changes into their laws sometime in the next 18 months or so.

According to Neelie Kroes, the digital agenda commissioner, the European Parliament will sign off on the change soon:

The change will give developers, businesses and citizens the right to get their hands on public data at low cost or for free. They will also be able to use data from museums, libraries and archives for the first time. Public sector bodies will only be able to charge marginal costs for sharing their data, and will also have to be more transparent about their charges. They will also be encouraged to make their data available in machine-readable formats.

According to a webpage setting out the Commission’s hopes on the matter, the data in question will cover digital maps, weather data and road congestion data, as well as information on companies and court proceedings:

“Most of Public Sector Information raw data could be re-used or integrated into new products and services, which we use on a daily basis, such as car navigation systems, smartphone apps with weather forecasts, information services for companies integrating information from various sources, such as statistical data with economic forecasts, company register data and other publicly available information.”

Some European countries, such as the UK, already have established open data initiatives (and so, of course, does the U.S.).

Sources close to the negotiations tell me that agreement was reached on the basis that cultural institutions in particular could charge a bit more than originally planned for handing out their data. Some governments had apparently been hoping to be able to charge a lot more for their institutions’ data, but were convinced that they would get more money in the form of taxation from the businesses that would spring up around open data, the sources noted.