Public sector information: EU open data proposals | Fieldfisher
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Public sector information: EU open data proposals

Paul Barton


United Kingdom

Public sector information: EU open data proposals

Tech Bytes contents


The public sector collects and produces a wide variety of data, including geographic, meteorological, traffic, financial, legal and economic and social data. This public sector information (PSI) can be combined with other data to create innovative apps and other digital products and services and, as such, has enormous economic potential.  However, this potential is largely untapped. According to the 2011 Vickery Review, opening up PSI and providing easy access for free or at marginal cost of distribution could result in overall economic gains of up to EUR 40 billion for the EU27; easier access could lead to efficiency gains for businesses and this together with lower prices could impact positively the number of users and the development of new uses.

Re-use of PSI is currently regulated through a 2003 Directive that encourages – but does not compel – Member States and public sector bodies to allow third parties to re-use their data.  The Directive sets out minimum, non-discriminatory, proportionate and transparent licensing practices as well as charging principles, and encourages Member States to adopt policies that go beyond the minimum standards, thus allowing for more extensive re-use.  However, conditions vary between Member States, and barriers remain.  The European Commission has now proposed a package of legislative and soft measures aimed at improving the Single Market in PSI and putting in place common standards and approaches that will lead to new and better services and information products for European consumers.

The Commission proposes to update the 2003 Directive so that:

  • All public information will be re-usable for commercial and non-commercial purposes, unless the information is specifically exempted under the revised Directive
  • The amount that can be charged for public sector information will be limited to the marginal costs of reproducing and disseminating the data. This differs from the current rules, which allow a "reasonable return on investment".  Exceptionally, the Commission proposes that where a public sector body generates a substantial part of its operating costs relating to the performance of their public service tasks from the exploitation of its IP, then it may be allowed to charge for re-use of its data above the marginal costs, according to objective, transparent and verifiable criteria, and provided this is in the public interest.
  • Libraries (including university libraries), archives and museums will all be brought within the scope of the updated Directive.

The Commission also plans to work with Member States and public sector bodies to establish a pan-European data portal that will start operating in 2013.  The portal will give direct access to a range of datasets from across the EU with the aim of eventually covering key datasets from all EU Member States.

The next step is for the European Parliament and Council to review the Commission's proposals.

For more information please contact Paul Barton, Partner in the Technology and Outsourcing Group at Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP.

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