On Friday the 16th of March, the European Public Service Information (ePSI) Platform conference was held in Rotterdam. More than 300 guests from all over the world gathered for what turned out to be a very busy and interesting day. The big turnout of the conference showed the huge current interest in Open Data.
The ePSI platform is an organisation working to stimulate and promote Public Service Information (PSI) re-use and open data initiatives. They work to achieve the goals of the PSI Directive, which was created in 2003, and encourages EU member states to make as much public sector information available for re-use as possible. Now, almost 10 years later, there is still a lot of work to be done. Instead of embracing the idea of open data, many large public organisations are fighting to maintain the right to charge costs for their information. It is in response to this that the European Commission proposed its ‘Open Data Strategy‘ in December 2011. It includes the following proposed changes to the European PSI Directive:
- All data made available by government institutions must be able to be generally used for commercial and non-commercial purposes;
- In principle, the costs charged by government institutions may not exceed the costs involved in the individual request for information (marginal costs – in practice usually free of charge);
- an obligation for government institutions to provide data in common machine-readable formats to ensure that information can actually be re-used;
- Member States must introduce regulatory supervision to monitor compliance with the aforementioned principles;
- information from libraries, museums and archives will also be eligible for re-use.
From the Open GLAM perspective, the last change of the directive is of course very interesting. It would mean that all the European cultural memory institutions have to make their publicly funded work freely and openly available. It is important to notice here that this will only include their metadata, that is the data about the actual cultural objects that they hold. This includes author/year/location etcetera. By making this data freely available for re-use, data from cultural institutions can be linked to other collections and also be reused in new and innovative applications. A lot of traditional institutions are still anxious about this idea since they fear that they will lose control over their data, and this is just one of the concerns. The whitepaper “The problem of the Yellow Milkmaid” shows a more thorough study about the potential benefits and perceived risks of open metadata for cultural institutions.
When cultural heritage institutions are included under the purview of the PSI Directive, this will improve citizens access to our shared knowledge and culture and should increase the amount of digitized cultural heritage that is available online. At the end of 2011 however, the Dutch government expressed some concerns about the idea of including libraries, archives and museums. The main reason for this is that they believe that it will become too much of an administrative burden for the institutions to conform to. The Dutch government suggested instead that institutions should make their data available on a more voluntary base through for example the Europeana project.
During the presentation sessions about cultural heritage, Richard Sweetenham (Head of Unit, Access to Information at the European Commission), gave his response to Dutch government’s line on the matter. He said that he could not think of a reason why cultural institutions should not be included in the directive; the data is already there and the institutions are not only are funded with public money, but also have a public mission. The content of an archive, museum or library only has value when it is found and used. It gets even more value when the data is formatted in such a way that it can be linked with data from other cultural institutions from around Europe and all over the world.
After his talk, Harry Verwayen, business development director at Europeana and David Haskiya, product developer at Europeana, showed the value proposition of open cultural heritage metadata. To make the most out of this data, institutions should not be afraid to publish their metadata under a CC0 license. Waiving away all rights of the data sounds scary, but it actually enables them pursue their public mission more successfully, while still controlling the copyright of the actual digitised object. A more thorough study about the impact of the proposed amendments of the PSI directive has been done by the Communia association and can be found here.
The next couple of months will be crucial for the PSI directive. All updates can be found on the ePSI platform website.