LAPSI: An EU thematic network for enabling public sector information re-use
Many legal aspects remain unclear and lots of doubts are there as to the technical issues, with particular reference to interoperability
One of the pillars of the European Union is the creation of a single market. Therefore, the European Union (EU) Institutions intervene at different levels in order to create conditions for fostering a fair and competitive cross-border market in the entire EU area, as well as in the European Free Trade Area (EFTA).
Information generated and collected by public sector bodies (PSI) represents a veritable minefield in both democracy and market perspectives; it may make a much greater contribution to EU economies and societies, in particular if current legal barriers to access and re-use were removed. This is why the EU Commission in 2003 issued a Directive on the re-use of Public Sector Information (hereinafter the PSI Directive). In a three steps model of
1. Arrange for information to be publicly available,
2. Allow re-use of such information
3. Ensure practical and legal conditions foster alternative uses of PSI, the PSI Directive clearly operates only at stage 3, and in a modest manner at that.
Even if an upcoming revision of the said PSI Directive will lead to a duty for Member States to allow re-use, the decision about what information or data is made public would remain a domestic one. There are sound reasons for this; an important one is that the legislative competence of the EU to regulate access to national government information is limited. In 2009 the European Commission launched a call for creating a thematic network supposed to provide with some policy support for the impact assessment of the PSI Directive and for its review, scheduled for 2012. The Nexa Research Center for Internet and Society gathered a consortium of twenty partners from thirteen different EU member state, drafted a proposal and won the call. This is how the LAPSI Thematic Network saw the light. Since the beginning the LAPSI project intended to build a network apt to become the main European point of reference for highlevel policy discussions and strategic action on all legal issues related to the re-use of the PSI – but also to the access – , namely in the digital environment.
During this two years, the Legal Aspect of Public Sector Information (LAPSI) Thematic Network intensively worked on the legal aspects of PSI re-use without neglecting the legal issue of access and some technical issues, such as interoperability; in addition the Thematic Network also focused on some economic aspects, such as charging policies. In particular the LAPSI Thematic Network engaged in policy document production, such as draft policy recommendations, position papers and guidelines.
As to position papers, the LAPSI Thematic Network produced four advanced draft so far. As outlined in the introductory section of the first position paper on the “Consultation On behalf of the Comité de Sages on boosting cultural heritage online (RicolfiM., LAPSI Position Paper on the Consultation on behalf of the Comité de Sages on boosting cultural heritage on line, http://lapsi-project.eu/lapsifiles/ DigitalheritageconsLAPSI.pdf)”, the thematic network LAPSI wants not only to express the views which have surfaced in the discussion which took place among its members, but also compare them with the position taken on a topic by stakeholders and other players in the field. Furthermore, LAPSI advocated an approach combining total opposition against any restrictions concerning digitized content upstream with express and unlimited acceptance of commercial re-use downstream.
The second position paper concerns public undertakings and suggests to reconsider the exclusion of these subjects per se from the PSI Directive, mainly for complying with competition law general principles. In this context, LAPSI reflects on several issues: “Should public undertakings be covered by the PSI Directive? The defi nitions of public sector bodies and bodies governed by public law (Art. 2, recital 10), to which the PSI Directive applies, are currently taken from the public procurement Directives and public undertakings are not covered by these defi nitions. Should public undertakings be considered as public sector bodies in the meaning of the Directive? Are there public undertakings holding “interesting” PSI? Is e.g. the UK Royal Mail a public undertaking in the meaning of the Directive? Are there different defi nitions of national legislation leading to situations where bodies holding similar (public sector) data are in some Member States of Europe considered as public sector bodies (falling under the PSI Directive) and in other Member States considered as public undertakings (PSI Directive not applicable)? If public undertakings were to be covered by the PSI Directive, how should the defi nitions of public sector bodies and bodies governed by public law be amended? Should the defi nitions be detached from the public procurement defi nitions? Could data be considered as PSI if it was held by a privatised former public sector body? (RicolfiM. And Drexl J., Van Eechoud M., Salmeron M., Sappa C., Tsiavos P., Julian Valero (and Pavoni F., Patrito P. – EVPSI), The exclusion of “public undertakings” from the re-use of public sector information regime, http:// lapsi-project.eu/lapsifiles/lapsi_public_ undertakings_paper_adv_draft.pdf).”
The third position paper concerns charging policies and suggests to Public Sector Bodies (PSBs) to introduce marginal cost as a general principle for re-use, while higher costs should be applied only on exceptional basis. Two main problems are here identified. The first is related to how the exception should be drafted. The second is related to whom should identify and draft them: should the exception be identified by local PSBs, there would not be harmonization on this and consequently a lot of legal uncertainty. Should these exception be determined by national or supranational subjects, the risk is that local needs are not taken into account appropriately. Therefore the paper suggests that EC issues guidelines on the determination of exceptions (RicolfiM. And Drexl J., Van Eechoud M., Janssen K., Maggiolino M. T., Morando F., Sappa C., Torremans P., Uhlir P. (and Iemma R. – EVPSI and De Vries M.), The “principles governing charging” for re-use of public sector information, http://www.lapsi-project.eu/lapsifiles/ lapsi_charges_paper_adv_draft.pdf).
The fourth position paper concerns licenses and suggests that the EC issues guidelines on licensing models. In this context, the issue for which LAPSI’s contribution is sought is described as follow: “Are there licensing issues further facilitating re-use of PSI that could be brought forward by legislative measures, by amending the current provision of Article 8 of the Directive, or other measures? If yes, which could/ should they be?” (RicolfiM. And Van Eechoud M., Morando F., Tsiavos P. (and Ferrao L – EC), The “Licensing” of public sector information, http:// lapsi-project.eu/lapsifiles/lapsi_ licensing_paper_adv_draft.pdf).
As to guidelines, the LAPSI Thematic Network is currently working on guidelines on charging principles and on licenses and therefore trying to complete the work started with the position papers on both these specific and crucial issues. In particular the LAPSI Thematic Network is studying how different licenses could be drafted in order to satisfy the need of re-use data of different nature, without creating obstacles to their cross-border circulation.
As to policy recommendations, the six working groups of the LAPSI Thematic Network are working in several areas. More precisely they issued advanced drafts on privacy and personal data, intellectual property, competition law, cultural institutions, access, regulatory bodies, the principle of proportionality, trade secrecy. These drafts are works in progress and the intermediate versions are available on the wiki page of the LAPSI project.
With the aim of disseminating the views and the results of their research and of the discussions among its members, LAPSI tries to find synergies among different communication channels, including the public conferences, the competitions directly involving stakeholders (citizens, companies and especially public bodies) and the exploitation of tools made possible by the Internet, such as mailinglists, wikis and social networks.
LAPSI held its first public conference entitled “PSI at the Crossroads: Current Challenges and New Opportunities” on 5th and 6th May 2011 at the Bocconi University of Milan (Italy) (The presentations from the speakers of LAPSI 1st Public Conference are available at: http://lapsi-project.eu/ meeting5may#3). On this occasion LAPSI also gave its 1st Award concerned the best dissertation on legal aspects of PSI re-use. The very purpose of this award was to support any scientific initiative which could be beneficial to PSI re-use policies for moving forward. Antonio Legrottaglie is the winner of the 1st LAPSI Award with the dissertation “Sui generis copyright protection on PSI: which future for the re-use” (the abstract from the dissertation, together with the other best abstracts, is available on the publications archive page http:// www.lapsi-project.eu/publications)
After the experience acquired in collaboration with Open Knowledge Foundation (http://okfn.org) at Open Data Challenge (http://opendatachallenge. org/), the most important competition on open data in Europe, the idea of LAPSI was to propose a contest for building the best portal on public data. So, during the 2nd LAPSI public conference “A First Discussion after the Proposal for a Revision” taken place in Brussells on 23rd and 24th January 2012 (The presentations from the speakers of LAPSI 2nd Public Conference are available at: http://lapsi-project.eu/meeting23jan#2), it was given the award to the most user-friendly design of a public sector information portal in the European Union (The prize went to the Spanish portal datos.gob.es http://datos.gob.es/).
The thematic network LAPSI combines international meetings with an advanced use of the tools offered by the Internet. In addition to the web site http://lapsiproject. eu/, in which are published news related to public sector information and initiatives directly concern the thematic network, there are two public mailing lists (http://www.lapsi-project.eu/ listinfo): a list for a general discussion about the Legal Aspects of Public Sector Information and a one-way list for announcements related to the LAPSI project. In order to provide further material for those wishing to explore the theme of PSI, on the website are available a glossary of PSI-related terminology (http://lapsi-project.eu/lapsifiles/ lapsi_glossary.pdf), a bibliography (http://www.lapsi-project.eu/biblio), a collection of documents and norms on the PSI (http://www.lapsi-project.eu/ norms) and a selection of remarkable PSI decisions rendered by various EU Member States’ Domestic Courts (http:// www.lapsi-project.eu/decisions).
The updated version of all the LAPSI Policy Recommendations are available on the wiki page at http://www.lapsiproject. eu/wiki/index.php/LAPSI_Policy_ recommendations. LAPSI also oversees the most important social networks like Twitter (https://twitter.com/lapsi_project), Linkedin (http://www.linkedin.com/gr oups?home=&gid=4266110&trk=an et_ug_hm) and Facebook (https://www. facebook.com/lapsiproject). In order to be involved in LAPSI project there is a stakeholders online registration form available on the LAPSI website (http:// www.lapsi-project.eu/stakeholders-form).
All the production of the LAPSI Thematic Network will be presented at the final conference of the 9th and 10th of July in Turin (More information are available at: http://www.lapsi-project.eu/final). Intermediate drafts were discussed during the seminars and conferences organized so far. The two-days meeting is jointly organized with the EVPSI research project Final Meeting (http://www.evpsi.org/).
Clearly lots of work still needs to be done in the field of PSI. Many legal aspects remain unclear and lots of doubts are there as to the technical issues, with particular reference to interoperability. This is why the EC launched another call, so that once the LAPSI project ends, in September 2012, a LAPSI 2.0 Thematic Network can take the passing of the torch.
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