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.)

Obama's openness directive

The Obama administration’s long-awaited Open Government Directive was published on Tuesday – curiously, in PDF, TXT, DOC and Slideshare, but not HTML? – and seems to have received a warm welcome across the Atlantic.
What’s quite interesting is its very prescriptive approach. Within a specified number of days, specifically 45, they must have identified and published three new ‘high quality’ datasets in open formats. Then, by day 60 (ie 6 February 2010), each department must have created a new page on its website on open government issues, at a specified URL: http://www.[agency].gov/open. This page must include mechanisms for public feedback and quality assessment; a plan for ‘how it will improve transparency and integrate public participation and collaboration’, to be updated every two years; the annual FOI report; and regular responses to public input. (I’m almost surprised they haven’t offered a wireframe for the page.)
The document goes on to outline what it expects to see in each departmental openness plan, including of particular interest:

  • proposed changes to internal management and administrative policies to improve participation
  • proposals for new feedback mechanisms, including innovative tools and practices that create new and easier methods for public engagement
  • proposals to use technology platforms to improve collaboration among people within and outside your agency
  • innovative methods, such as prizes and competitions, to obtain ideas from and to increase collaboration with those in the private sector, non-profit, and academic communities; and
  • at least one specific, new transparency, participation, or collaboration initiative that your agency is currently implementing (or that will be implemented before the next update of the Open Government Plan).

Very specific measures, milestones and expectations – plus mandatory innovation across the board. Would it work here?
For more, read TechPresident.com’s analysis of the directive, and its implications.