Why we needed the Open Gov Licence

My post on the new Open Government Licence prompted a quite reasonable question from Carl Morris: ‘I’m looking for a reason why they’re launching a new licence rather than just using straightforward Creative Commons?‘ Perfectly reasonable question.
So I was delighted to see a response from Beth Brook at the National Archives – late on a Friday evening, I note, explaining precisely why. It’s such a good answer, it deserves a post in its own right.

As you’ll see the OGL is a very similar to Creative Commons and Open Data Commons, as we felt they really good models examples to work from. We did look extensively at adopting Creative Commons licences and worked with Creative Commons through the process. However, we developed our own licence for a number of reasons, and I’ll try to cover the main ones below:
– We needed the licence to cover both copyright and database rights – Creative Commons covers copyright only and Open Data Commons covers database right. Having two licences apply side by side to a large proportion of the information being published by the public sector would be overly complex for the user and for the public sector doing the licensing. The OGL is one licence which covers a wide range of information and content types protected by copyright and/or database right, including source code.
– We needed a licence that can cover all jurisdictions in the UK, including Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland – the Creative Commons UK licence is still forthcoming.
– We wanted the licence to be a simple as possible under one set of terms and conditions rather than having a simple summary on the surface and lengthier, more complex conditions underneath this. The OGL presents summary examples (in the ‘You are free to:’ section), as well as the more legal necessities in just one licence document.
– We have ensured that the OGL is compatible with Creative Commons and Open Data Commons attribution licences.

Further proof, not that we need it, that the National Archives team really are on the side of the angels on this one. I’m so delighted that sheer simplicity was a good enough justification.

New Open Government licence

Way back in January, I noted OPSI’s commitment to replace the Click-Use Licence with something closely resembling the Creative Commons ‘by’ licence. Following its early introduction on data.gov.uk, it’s now been formally launched  – and already, departments are altering their terms & conditions to reflect it.
Officially named the Open Government Licence, it states in remarkably straightforward terms that ‘you are encouraged (!) to use and re-use the Information that is available under this licence … freely and flexibly’. It has been defined to be legally ‘interoperable’ with the Creative Commons Attribution Licence, sharing a certain amount of its language – and even bears a mild visual resemblance to it, which is a smart move in itself.
As I’ve mentioned before, it doesn’t legally move the goalposts very much, I don’t think: but so much of this is in the presentation, and the culture change that it hopes to deliver. ‘Crown copyright’ sounds a lot more scary and protective than it really ever is/was. Even just the name ‘open government licence’ changes the whole tone.
There’s quite extensive guidance on the National Archives website, which should help departments appreciate what it all means: including, I’m delighted to note, some sample copyright statements.
The implications are perhaps best demonstrated by the brevity of the first few answers on the FAQ page:

Do I need written confirmation to use information under the Open Government Licence?
No. The Open Government Licence is an implied licence. By using information made available under the licence you indicate that you have accepted its terms and conditions.
Do I have to register for an Open Government Licence?
No. There is no need to register or formally apply for a licence, unlike the previous Click-Use Licence. Users simply need to ensure that their use of information complies with the Open Government Licence terms.
Are there any fees for using information made available under the Open Government Licence?
There are no charges for using information under the Open Government Licence.
How long does the Open Government Licence last?
Unless you breach its terms, the Open Government Licence is a perpetual licence.

It’s precisely the kind of brain-dead simplicity we’ve needed in this field. Innovators simply don’t want to wade through pages/screens of legal-ese, just to know if they’re allowed to play with your material. (Instead, they’ll probably go off and innovate with someone else’s.)

Creative Commons coming to data.gov.uk

There’s something almost unnerving about the launch of a government website getting so much positive coverage. But today’s been data.gov.uk‘s big day, and everyone seems to agree it’s a jolly good thing. For now.
James Crabtree’s piece for Prospect magazine hails it as ‘a tale of star power, serendipity, vision, persistence and an almost unprecedented convergence of all levels of government’. The New Statesman says it’s ‘a far more radical project than it first appears… a clear break with the closed, data-hugging state of the past.’ We’re all getting quite excitable, aren’t we?
Me? I’m just looking back over posts on this blog last year: this one about the need to make moves on data release (including an excerpt from my resignation letter from ONS), and this one on Tim Berners-Lee’s appointment. I’ll confess, I got something wrong in that latter post; I wrote that it was ‘probably’ a cult-of-celebrity, hands-off appointment. Looks like that wasn’t entirely accurate. Sorry.
This has been a long time coming. Too long. Shamefully long. But there is still good reason to be excited. Amid all the talk about bicycle accidents, you may have missed the news that OPSI is working on simplified T&Cs for reuse of the site’s data:

These terms and conditions have been aligned so that they are interoperable with any Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Licence. The terms and conditions are also machine readable meaning that the licence is presented and coded in such a way that applications and programs can access and understand the terms and conditions too.
This is the first major step towards the adoption of a non-transactional, Creative Commons style approach to licensing the re-use of government information. The new model will replace the existing Click-Use Licence. We are working towards the launch of the new licence model by the end of May 2010.

Don’t overlook the significance of this move. This is government adopting someone else’s standard, for something they have historically claimed as their own. The Click-Use Licence is actually pretty liberal… but it’s scary.
This simple shift will take us from this:

Unless otherwise specified the information on this site is covered by either Crown Copyright, Crown Database Right or has been licensed to the Crown. It is your responsibility to clear any other rights. You are encouraged to use and re-use the information that is available on and through this site freely and flexibly, with only a few conditions…

to this (or something very like it). We, the citizens of the web, know what Creative Commons means: we don’t need to look it up, we won’t need a dictionary, and we won’t need a lawyer. Good things will happen as a direct result.