UK Government goes open source

The Government has made an important move towards opening its data for public use with the launch of the Open Government Licence, its answer to Creative Commons.

Currently running in a beta phase, the Open Government Licence - part of the UK Government Licensing Framework - aims to make public sector data, which would ordinarily be covered under Crown Copyright and Crown Database Right, available for all to remix and reuse.

The idea behind the Open Government Licence is to give the government a legal licence which it can publish its data and software under while retaining the copyright and database rights under Crown Copyright rules. Described as being "interoperable with the latest versions of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence, and the Open Data Commons Attribution Licence," the OGL offers those who want to use and derive UK public sector information a free licence to do so.

As part of the move, the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationary Office - who is in charge of significantly more than paperclips and staples - is making all information currently subject to Crown Copyright or Crown Database Right, or where such rights have been assigned to the Crown via a third party, available under the Open Government Licence, including all previous data held under the Click-Use Licence and any software and source code that the Crown has developed.

There will be exceptions, of course - but the good news is that the biggest exception is a positive one: any information which has already been released under another open source licence or where the copyright and database rights have expired will continue to be made available under their original licensing terms. This leaves those who have started to use Crown-provided software under open licences like the GNU Public Licence, or who have taken advantage on expired copyrights that have lapsed into the public domain, free to continue their efforts without worrying about the new OGL terms and conditions.

Publicly identifiable information, as per usual, will not be made available under the OGL - so don't think you'll be getting hold of medical records or peoples' tax returns as a result of the government's new licensing terms.

It's a bold move by the government, and an exciting time for those looking to develop dataset mashups to improve peoples' lot in life. One example of the sort of use that data released under the OGL could be put to is for GPS navigation software to include government data on accident blackspots, providing safer routing that avoids particularly troublesome locations.

The UK Government Licensing Framework's team, is opening the project up to feedback from the public, asking, "Whether the UKGLF provides adequate context and policy principles and whether the Open Government Licence is clear and easy to use," along with any alternative suggestions for how to better provide public sector data to those who would like to make use of it.

Let's hope that the new licensing framework opens up a whole new level of access to public data, and provides a steady stream of helpful software developed by public sector employees.

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