UK government adopts Creative Commons licenses for open data: good news for public-sector researchers publishing in open access journals

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The UK government has in
recent years made significant amounts of government data openly available for
reuse.  They Work for You is an example of a
website which creatively reuses data on UK parliamentary activity,  and its parent organization, MySociety, has played an important role in
encouraging the UK government towards opening up more data.

The latest development in
UK government open data sharing is the launch
of data.gov.uk, launched in beta test form
last month , which “provides a single access point to over 2,500 central
government datasets that have been made available for free re-use”.

Buried in the small print
of this announcement is an important change, with significant implications for
open access publishing in the UK. This change is the adoption of Creative
Commons-compatible licensing
for UK government open content.

Up until now, open data  from the UK government was licensed via the Office of Public Sector
Information
’s ‘Click Use
license scheme. The Click Use model required any potential users or
distrubutors of the data to first request their own ‘Click Use’ license from the
UK government website, in order to gain permission to reuse the data.

In contrast musicians,
artists and other creators around the world who wish to share content openly
while reserving some rights have increasingly standardized on the use of  Creative
Commons
licenses, which do not require any such license request to be made.

BioMed Central, like many
other open access publishers, uses the Creative Commons Attribution
License
, which requires only that the original version of the work should
be correctly attributed when the work or any part of it is reused.

Until now, because work
carried out by researchers at UK government agencies is often covered by ‘Crown
Copyright’
, and because Crown Copyright is legally distinct from the normal
Copyright law, the applicability of Creative Commons licenses to such work has
been in question. As a result, special license wording has in some cases been
necessary for such articles published in BioMed Central journals, in order to
indicate that they can be reused only under the ‘Click use’ scheme. This had the
potential to cause delays for authors and confusion for readers.

The good news is that the
announced intention of OPSI to move away from ‘Click Use’ licensing towards
Creative Commons-compatible licensing over the coming months should entirely
solve this problem, making life easier for all concerned.

It also provides an
important precedent for dealing with similar challenges in other (rather arcane)
areas of copyright law. For example, the World
Health Organization
and other supra-national bodies do not recognize national
jurisdictions, which causes similar challenges for Creative Commons licensing
to those caused by Crown Copyright,  and
requires similar workarounds via special-case license wording. BioMed Central
is hopeful that a Creative Commons-compatible licensing scheme specifically
designed for such supra-national bodies will soon resolve this and we are
working with WHO and Creative Commons towards such a solution.