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CC license version 4.0: Helping meet the needs of open data publishers and users

Timothy Vollmer - August 15, 2012 in External, Legal, Open Data Commons, Open Standards, Open/Closed, WG Open Licensing

Over the last few months, Creative Commons has been working on the next version of its license suite, version 4.0. The goals of version 4.0 are wide-ranging, but the overall objective is clear: update the licenses so they are considerably more robust, yet easy to understand and use, for both existing communities and new types of users.

A key community that version 4.0 aims to serve better are public sector agencies releasing data. Public sector information can be of great value, but the public needs to know what they can do with it. At the same time, public sector agencies need to be reassured that they can offer data in a way that gives them credit, maintains their reputation, and ensures some level of data integrity. Version 4.0 offers several updates in support of both open data publishers and users. A few of these are discussed below.

Sui generis database rights

One area of particular interest to European data publishers and users will be the shift in how CC licenses handle sui generis database rights. These rights are similar to copyright, but instead of granting particular exclusive rights to authors for creating an original work, database rights reward the author for the “sweat of the brow” in compiling a database. In 3.0, CC licenses do not require compliance with the license conditions where the use of a CC licensed database triggers only sui generis database rights but not copyright. At the same time, CC 3.0 does not grant permission to engage in activities protected by the database right. In 4.0, we propose to license sui generis database rights on par with copyright. Since sui generis database rights are similar to copyright (in 4.0 draft 2 it is called a “copyright-like” right), this will align with expectations of users.

Here’s an example. Let’s use as a baseline a CC BY licensed database of public transport data published by the city of Berlin.

In 3.0 (International), a user extracts some public transport data in the database in a way that doesn’t implicate copyright. For example, they might extract the names of underground stations and train times and plot them on a map. They don’t have to attribute the creator of the database required by the CC license because such an extraction of factual data would not implicate copyright. However, the user might still be liable for infringing the sui generis database rights under German law (enacted in-line with the EU database directive). And CC 3.0 doesn’t license those rights. The user has to figure it out for herself.

In 4.0, the goal is to make it so that even if the user extracts data from the CC BY licensed public transport database in a way that doesn’t implicate copyright (but does implicate the sui generis database right), the CC license grants those permissions (and imposes restrictions) in the same way as would be required under normal CC licensing circumstances. So, for example, the user extracts the names of underground stations and train times to plot them on a map. Even though this action still doesn’t implicate copyright, it does trigger sui generis database rights. Under CC BY 4.0, the database rights are granted, and the user must provide attribution to the creator of the database. Of course, if this change is adopted in 4.0, the licensing of sui generis database rights will only be in effect in jurisdictions that recognize these rights. So, for those jurisdictions where sui generis database rights do not exist, nothing would change.

Strengthen reputation and integrity

Another change queued up for 4.0 is the strengthening of particular provisions so that the CC licenses can be more easily used by institutions such as public sector bodies releasing open data. For example, 4.0 communicates more prominently that licensees may not imply or assert that their use of the licensed work is connected to or endorsed by the licensor. In addition to this “no endorsement” clause, 4.0 makes it possible for public sector bodies to add additional notices, warranties, or disclaimers of liability. The 4.0 draft also makes it clear – without making it a specific condition of the license itself – that users of licensed works are responsible for complying with laws outside of copyright that may apply to the use of the work, for instance data protection laws and laws guarding against fraud or misrepresentation. These mechanisms are important for official government bodies and data publishers: such institutions are sometimes apprehensive about releasing data sets if they think that downstream users will remix the data in ways that appear to show that the institution has sponsored or endorsed the use.

Updated attribution

CC 4.0 also attempts to clarify and simplify the attribution requirements. Licensees must still identify the author, the URL to where the work can be accessed, the URL to the CC license, and retain notices of disclaimers. Draft 4.0 streamlines the attribution process in a few ways — for example, it removes the requirement to include the title of the work. However, in version 4.0 licensees can satisfy these requirements in any reasonable manner based on the medium, means, and context in which the work is used. Flexibility is important considering the wide range of potential uses for CC licensed content, especially data. One way that this might play out is for a licensee to provide alongside the work a simple URL to a web page that contains the information required to meet the attribution terms. You can imagine how that would be useful to help address problems of attribution stacking — users of databases would not have to list every single contributor alongside their adaptation. Instead, they could point to a separate web page listing the contributors, which makes more sense in certain applications. With these updated attribution methods, it helps licensees to give credit to the authors in the manner they wish to be attributed.

All these issues (and more) continue to be discussed in consultation with the Creative Commons community. If all goes well, CC 4.0 will be published before the new year. We welcome feedback on the license-discuss email list.

Image: Construction Cranes by Evo, CC-BY 2.0

UK Open Standards Consultation

Jeni Tennison - April 18, 2012 in Campaigning, External, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Standards, Open/Closed, WG Open Government Data

The following post is cross-posted from Jeni’s blog – http://www.jenitennison.com/blog/

Over the last few months, the UK Government has been running a consultation on its Open Standards policy. The outcome of this consultation is incredibly important not only for organisations and individuals who want to work with government but also because of its potential knock-on effects on the publication of Open Data and the use of Open Source software within public sector organisations.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft, Qualcomm and other organisations who have a vested interest in keeping the UK Government locked in to their products are responding vociferously to the consultation. They risk not only losing business to smaller enterprises within the UK but also, if the policy is successfully adopted here, in other countries in Europe and internationally that follow suit.

If we want our Government to be Open — to use Open Standards, to publish Open Data, to adopt Open Source — then we must respond to this consultation in numbers.

There are three things that you can do:

  1. Respond to the consultation — made even easier by this response form developed by Ric Harvey
  2. Attend the events — these seem pretty full now, but try to get in if you can
  3. Spread the message — blog and tweet and write to raise awareness of the importance and impact that this consultation could have

The consultation is quite long and there are a lot of questions to answer. In the hope of making this easier for everyone, I’ve published my response over on my blog. Please consider these responses public domain, and feel free to copy as much or as little as you like from them (though I recommend you omit the parts that are about my individual experience and substitute them with your own).

For extra background, read:

Launching the Open Data Census 2012!

Laura Newman - April 17, 2012 in Featured, Open Government Data, Open/Closed, Our Work, WG Open Government Data

To take part in the Open Data Census 2012, please visit: http://opengovernmentdata.org/census/submit/.

As government officials, civil society leaders and open data experts gather in Brazil this week for the Open Government Partnership, it is clear that Open Government Data has become a major topic on a global scale. In September last year, 8 governments founded the Open Government Partnership. Little more than six months on, and a further 43 have signed-up and endorsed the Open Government Declaration already. The movement is big and it’s growing.

At the close of last year’s Open Government Data Camp, the Open Knowledge Foundation announced plans to launch an Open Data Census in 2012. Since then, preparations have been underway. And this week, to coincide with the Open Government Partnership meeting, the Open Data Census is going live!

What is the Open Data Census?

The Open Data Census 2012 is an attempt to monitor the current status of open data across the globe.

The primary focus of the Census is data. Policies are crucial, but as Chris Taggart’s analysis of corporate data demonstrates, actual practice can be very different. Focussing on data will also allow us to keep the census very concrete. Analysing policy or even law is a complex process; whether a dataset is ‘open’ or not is usually a clear yes or no answer.

In this Census, we are interested in the current status of data: is it open, is it accessible, can I use it now?

We hope to gather responses from every country in the world. To find out how to contribute on behalf of your country, read on below!

What will the Open Data Census look at?

In the first incarnation of the 2012 Census, we have decided to look only at ten specific datasets. We hope to expand this in future, and we welcome suggestions for new datasets to include (see below).

For each dataset, we will explore whether it is:

  • a) available in a digital form
  • b) machine-readable
  • c) publicly available, free of charge
  • d) openly licensed

A yes to all of these questions imply that the dataset is open data.

We are primarily seeking binary yes / no responses – but we have allowed a space for comments in case the situation is not clear cut.

The datasets have been chosen for their breadth and relevance. We have attempted to select data which most governments could reasonably be expected to collect. The ten datasets are:

  1. Election Results (national)
  2. Company Register
  3. National Map (Low resolution: 1:250,000 or better)
  4. Government Budget (high level – spending by sector)
  5. Government Budget (detailed – transactional level data)
  6. Legislation (laws and statutes)
  7. National Statistical Office Data (economic and demographic information)
  8. National Postcode/ZIP database
  9. Public Transport Timetables
  10. Environmental Data on major sources of pollutants (e.g. location, emissions)

It may be that some people have already begun collecting information in some of these areas. We’re keen not to duplicate efforts, so please do get in touch if you have information which is relevant.

So what next?

Our biggest challenge is to start gathering responses!

Take part in the Census

  • To take part in the Open Data Census 2012, please visit: http://opengovernmentdata.org/census/submit/
  • You should submit one census form per dataset per country.
  • You can see which countries and datasets have already been submitted at .
  • If you notice an error in a submitted form or are able to add more information, please submit a new census form for that country and dataset. Please highlight the correction in your comments.

Give us feedback for the future

  • We welcome all feedback on the Census. We also welcome suggestions for new datasets to include in future Censuses. Please email info[@]okfn.org with your comments
  • If you would like to become more involved with the Open Data Census 2012, please sign-up to the Open Government mailing list
  • The Open Government working group welcomes everyone with an interest in Open Government. See our website to find out more.

Watch this Space!

  • We hope to make the results of the Open Data Census 2012 available later this year. Keep an eye on the blog for more details!

Being Open About Data

Antti Halonen - April 4, 2012 in External, OKF Finland, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open/Closed, WG Open Government Data

A more detailed version of this post can be found on the Finnish Institute blog.

The Finnish Institute in London has recently completed a five-month research project on the British open data policies. The report looks at how the open data ecosystem has emerged in the UK and what lessons can be drawn from the British experiences. The year 2012 will be a big year for open data in Finland, and this report also partly aims at further facilitating the development of open knowledge in Finland.

In short, the key arguments that the research makes can be listed as follows:

  • The key to securing the benefits of open data is the quality of user engagement
  • Open data and its objectives should be addressed as a part of the freedom-of-information continuum
  • The decision to emphasise the release of expenditure data was not ideal: governments do not know best what kind of data people want to have and should aim at releasing it all
  • Leadership, trust and IT knowledge are crucial, not only for political leadership but within organisations too
  • The social and democratic impacts of open data are still unclear and in future there is a need for sector-specific research

After a series of interviews and analysis of government documents it became evident that open data is not as apolitical an initiative as many may assume it to be. There is a long history of politicised debate on transparency and public spending behind the initiative.

It seems that public sector data providers are supportive towards the idea of data transparency itself, but very cautious towards the means of achieving it, especially the initiative of releasing the data of expenditure over £500 in local government. At the same time, the open data community should not overestimate the general level of interest towards data.

Open data is applied in various ways with lots of small-scale success stories available, mostly in the form of mobile-phone or web applications. These services make everyday life of citizens a tiny bit easier, and when accumulated they may result in significant economic benefits. However, the open-data community has also been vocal about the potential positive impacts on democracy. These impacts are significantly harder to identify and need much more research in order to produce comprehensive and reliable results.

The report argues that the applicability of data is effectively linked to the initial objectives of open data. The value of open data is built on an uncertain variable and on how people use it – it is difficult to form a single “one size fits all” model, to measure the value of applicability. In addition, we must realise the difference between transparency and democracy-oriented goals that are usually associated with the freedom-of-information movement and the technology and innovation-oriented goals of the open-data movement. The overall value of transparency is, however, not something that should be measured primarily in financial profits.

Economic impacts can be measured relatively easily with the current methods, but the possible changes in our society due to digitisation of the core infrastructures and the abilities of citizens to manage their lives within it pose challenges for the legitimate and democratic transparency regime. In the future, it is more important to focus on the normative side of open data and on its potential impacts on democracy. There is a risk of creating a hollow mantra of open data improving the level of democracy without any evidence provided. However, the potential for great improvement in democratic accountability is there.

Truly democratic transparency requires more than just the release of open data. It needs citizens who can see that their interests are treated equally in society. If it is hoped that open data will provide the catalyst for this, then the thresholds for access, use and interpretation of data need to be as low as possible. In order to achieve this, the data producers must possess a certain level of ICT knowledge to implement the system so that it is both simple enough to use and sophisticated enough to be able to manage information flow comprehensively – knowledge which is often lacking. This should not be an excuse not to release data, however, but a wake-up call for both data providers and the open-data community alike.

The Finnish Institute continues its work with open knowledge in all its forms and is happy to be a partner organisation in the upcoming Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki. The final report “Being Open About Data – analysis of the UK open data policies and applicability of data” can be read and downloaded here.

#ogdcamp opening talk from Neelie Kroes

Jonathan Gray - October 20, 2011 in Events, OGDCamp, Open Government Data, Open/Closed, Policy, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data, Working Groups

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Here is the video and full text for Neelie Kroes’s address at Open Government Data Camp 2011.

> Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

> Opening up public data will foster the participation of citizens in political and social life, increase the transparency of public administration, and improve public decision making.

> Public data is also an essential raw material of the Digital Single Market, a treasure trove for creating new products and services. These will help us address the challenges we face in areas such as transport, energy and health. They will make our lives easier. And they represent important new opportunities for innovative businesses. The overall economic gain could amount to tens of billions of euros, every year. > Therefore my goal is to promote creative and innovative re-use of public data. By making public data as widely available as possible, to citizens and businesses alike. > I want to see Europe at the forefront of this development. To this end I am preparing an Open Data Strategy for November which will comprise a number of elements. > * First, on the legislative side, I will propose changes to the PSI Directive, which has governed the re-use of public sector information since 2003, to make it more effective. > * Second, I will explain why opening up this public resource is a good investment. Let me focus on just one aspect today: How large is this investment, really, in the long run? Not very large if we make everything accessible by default, by building this into our public administrations’ systems and processes. And even smaller if we also get rid of case-specific licences and controls and make everything re-usable by default. Restrictions should have to be justified, not disclosure. > * Third, we in the Commission need to practice what we preach: Therefore, o we will update the rules for the disclosure and re-use of the data we collect; and by next spring, we will launch a portal to make our data accessible and re-usable. I hope that this can expand to cover other EU institutions and agencies soon. > * And fourth, we plan to launch a pan-European Open Data portal in 2013. It will federate existing portals, gradually expanding to cover datasets produced by public administrations at all levels: from local to European. Open data for Europe can only work in a bottom-up, federated fashion. It requires knowledge and dedication at all levels, in the public sector and among data re-users. This is a collective effort to make our society a better place. > There is no doubt in my mind that events such as the Open Government Data Camp, held in Warsaw this week, contribute a lot to this. I wish you very fruitful discussions!

Open content film blocked by YouTube in Germany

Jonathan Gray - July 17, 2011 in Legal, Open Content, Open/Closed

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Cartoonist, animator and activist Nina Paley recently got in touch with me after her talk at OKCon 2011, saying that her openly licensed film Sita Sings the Blues has been blocked by YouTube in Germany:

GEMA has blocked Sita Sings the Blues from German YouTube for over a year, maybe over 2 years – I can’t be certain because I have only anecdotal reports. I came up with this idea while I was at OKCon in Berlin, and saw the takedown message with my own eyes. Better than using lawyers! Please share!


You can see the video clip she created about this here:

We need international open government data principles

Jonathan Gray - July 8, 2011 in OGDCamp, Open Data, Open Definition, Open Government Data, Open/Closed, Policy, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data, Working Groups

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

We need a set of international open government data principles.

Why? Because as the ‘open data‘ meme travels around the world – unlocking information from local, regional and national public bodies as it goes – we want to make sure that we’re all talking about the same thing. We want to make sure we can easily tell data which is open from data which is not open.

Why do we need to make sure that we agree on what ‘open data’ means? Because we want to minimise friction in the data ecosystem. We want an open data ecosystem without borders, barriers, restrictions, exceptions, checklists, registration forms, clickwrap agreements or micro-payments. We want data users – whether they are developers or designers, scholars or journalists – to be able to say:

Aha! This is open data. That means that I know what I can do with it: anything I like!


So far we’ve been very lucky. The vast majority of initiatives around the world calling themselves ‘open data’ initiatives are, indeed, pretty open. There have been a few initiatives which have launched with restrictive, ambiguous or absent legal terms – but this has often been pointed out, and often been rectified.

But why rely on luck? If we really want open government data to scale, to grow from a powerful idea to a powerful, global reality, then perhaps it is time we started to rely on simple, explicit, well-defined principles instead of serendipity to ensure that everyone reaches the same conclusions about what open data is, and what the defining characteristics of an open data initiative are.

Instead of public bodies deciding to do an open data initiative, then debating and wrangling over the legal details, we should try to build a stronger sense that if you want to do an open data initiative, then this entails you make your data open in such and such a way, according to principles which every major open data initiative around the world has signed on to.

These principles would be much less about drafting original content, and much more about building stronger consensus between existing open data initiatives around the world. There is already a lot of implicit agreement about what open data is, as well as lots of good material to build on.

For example, the UK Government’s Public Data Principles say:

Public data will be published in reusable, machine-readable form [...]

Public data will be released under the same open licence which enables free reuse, including commercial reuse – all data should be under the same easy to understand licence.


The US’s Open Government Directive says:

To the extent practicable and subject to valid restrictions, agencies should publish information online in an open format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched by commonly used web search applications. An open format is one that is platform independent, machine readable, and made available to the public without restrictions that would impede the re-use of that information.


New Zealand’s NZGOAL Framework says:

[...] State Services agencies should make their copyright works which are or may be of interest or use to people available for re-use on the most open of licensing terms available within NZGOAL (the Open Licensing Principle).


Not to mention things such as the 8 Principles of Government led by civic society developers and NGOs in the US, and the Sunlight Foundation’s 10 Open Data Principles.

The basic message is clear: maximise reusability, minimise restrictions. This message is also unpacked on OpenDefinition.org:

A piece of content or data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.


A set of international open government data principles would enshrine some of these ideas into a few clear and simple sentences saying what open data is – and have some mechanism for public bodies around the world to sign on. The key thing is that they would be drafted and adopted by leading open data initiatives around the world – who would also help to encourage others to adopt them.

This need not be an arduous or burdensome process. Signing principles that say open government data is X, Y, and Z, is very different to committing to implement them across government. E.g. most governments will have some open data and some non-open data, some data which is free for everyone to reuse, and some data which isn’t. The main thing is that when governments around the world talk about open data, they agree about what this means, and what it entails.

If you’re interested in this topic you may like to join the open-government mailing list. There will also be further discussion and activity around a set of international open government data principles at Open Government Data Camp 2011 in Warsaw on 20-21st October.

Notes from Open Metadata Workshop, The Hague, 15th June 2011

Jonathan Gray - June 24, 2011 in Bibliographic, Events, Open Data, Open/Closed, Policy, WG Open Bibliographic Data, Working Groups, Workshop

The following post is from Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

Last week I went to an excellent workshop on open metadata organised by Europeana. The workshop drew together directors from libraries, archives and cultural heritage organisations across Europe – such as the British Library, the Deutsche National Bibliothek, the UK National Archives, the National Library of Ireland, the National Library of Lithuania, the Rijksmuseum, Statsbibliothek Berlin and many others.

From the blurb about the workshop (my highlights):

During the past couple of years the call to make (meta) data openly available for re-use, especially in the public sphere, has gained a lot of momentum. We see this reflected in many initiatives such as the Open Data Challenge, Share-PSI and recently a number of institutions that have started making their records available as Linked Open Data (see for example the British Library).

Europeana is also in the process of redesigning the data exchange agreements with our partners to reflect this new paradigm. To a large extend the plans we have formulated in our Strategic Plan are dependent on agreeing on a much more open license on the metadata held in our repository. During a lengthy consultation process we have gained a lot of insights and arguments from our network on the reasons pro and con. What we have not done before is to put the cultural institution central in this equation, by looking at the impact on the business model of a cultural institution when it makes its metadata available under a non restrictive licence (CC0 or CC-BY-SA). What are the main benefits that can be expected? What new channels will become available? Will this diminish the potential earning capacity of the institution? These are the types of questions we would like investigate with you.


Through in-depth discussions and group exercises, the workshop drew out and explored lists of risks (e.g. loss of income, brand and attribution) and benefits (e.g. new collaborations, partnerships, expertise) associated with openly licensing metadata. Explicitly drawing out and exploring risks was particularly interesting, and the workshop gave participants the opportunity to discuss and address their concerns thoroughly. Someone helped to produced drawings to capture the topics discussed in real time:

One theme of the workshop was how the cultural heritage community can build a better base of evidence to support switching to open licensing models for metadata about works. As the director of a national library put it:

Everyone sees the opportunities in relation to open data, we just need better arguments to address potential risks.


Participants said that there was a general willingness to take risks associated with switching to an open data model – despite things like potential loss of direct income – because the potential benefits outweigh these risks. But there was a need for stronger arguments and evidence to convince others in the sector. There was a strong sense that the risks of opening up are relatively short term, whereas the benefits are medium to long term.

Bill Thompson from the BBC pointed out that metadata holders were often tempted to overstate the value that could be derived from selling their data. In response to this he said:

Potential income is often not real income. Board members imagine that digital rights can mean big money, but often they are wrong.


Participants discussed how opening up metadata – allowing this information about collections to be reused by others – was part of the public mission of cultural heritage organisations. This creates opportunities for enriching the data, increasing relevance, and attracting new users to online and physical collections. As one participant said:

The more you open up, the more customers you attract, the more relevant you become.


Everyone agreed that it was worth building up a stronger base of evidence – of open data success stories – that would encourage and inspire more cultural heritage organisations to consider opening up their metadata. Representatives from Europeana said they would be doing something in this area soon.

You can find some photos from the workshop here. We’ll post links to further documentation and coverage here as soon as they become available!

If you’re interested in open metadata, you may wish to join our open-bibliography and open-heritage mailing lists.

When Washington DC took a step back from open data & transparency

Guest - June 7, 2011 in External, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open/Closed, WG EU Open Data, WG Open Government Data

The following is a guest post from Chris Taggart, co-founder of OpenCorporates.com and member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on Open Government Data.

When the amazing Emer Coleman first approached me a year and a half to get feedback on the plans for the London datastore, I told her that the gold standard for such datastores was that run by the District of Columbia, in the US. It wasn’t just the breadth of the data; it was that DC seemed to have integrated the principles of open data right into its very DNA.

And we had this commitment in mind that when we were thinking which were the US jurisdictions we’d scrape first for OpenCorporates, whose simple (but huge) goal is to build an open global database of every registered company in the world.

While there were no doubt many things that the DC company registry could be criticised for (perhaps it was difficult for the IT department to manage, or problematic for the company registry staff), for the visitors who wanted to get the information it worked pretty well.

What do I mean by worked well? Despite or perhaps because it was quite basic, it meant you could use any browser (or screenreader, for those with accessibility issues) to search for a company and to get the information about it.

It also had a simple, plain structure, with permanent URLs for each company, meaning search engines could easily find the data, so that if you search for a company name on Google there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get a link to the right page. This also means other websites can ‘deep-link’ to the specific company, and that links could be shared by people, in social networking, emails, whatever.

Finally, it meant that it was easy to get the information out of the register, by browsing or by scraping (we even used the scraper we wrote on ScraperWiki as an example of how to scrape a straightforward company register as part of our innovative bounty program).

It was, for the most part, what a public register should be, with the exception of providing a daily dump of the data under an open licence.

So it was a surprise a couple of weeks ago to find that they had redone the website, and taken a massive step back, essentially closing the site down to half the users of the web, and to those search engines and scrapers that wanted to get the information in order to make it more widely available.

In short it went from being pretty much open, to downright closed. How did they do this? First they introduced a registration system. Now, admittedly, it’s a pretty simple registration process, and doesn’t require you to submit any personal details. I registered as ‘Bob’ with a password of ‘password’ just fine. But as well as adding friction to the user experience, it also puts everything behind the signup out of the reach of search engines. Really dumb. Here’s the Google search you get now (a few weeks ago there were hundreds of thousands of results):

The other key point about adding a registration system is that the sole reason is to be able to restrict access to certain users. Let me repeat that, because it goes to the heart of the issue about openness and transparency, and why this is a step back from both by the District of Columbia: it allows them to say who can and can’t see the information.

If open data and transparency is about anything, it’s about giving equal access to information no matter who you are.

The second thing they did was build a site that doesn’t work for those who don’t use Internet Explorer 7 and above, including those who used screenreaders. That’s right. In the year 2011, when even Microsoft are embracing web standards, they decided to ditch them, and with them nearly half the web’s users, and all those who used screenreaders (Is this even allowed? Not covered by Americans With Disabilities Act?).

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been in an email dialogue with the people in the District of Columbia behind the site, to try to get to the bottom of this, and the bottom seems to be, that the accessibility of the site, the ability for search engines to index it, and for people to reuse the data isn’t a priority.

In particular it isn’t a priority compared with satisfying the needs of their ‘customers’, meaning those companies that file their information (and perhaps more subtly those companies whose business models depend on the data being closed). Apparently some of the companies had complained that they were being listed, contacted and or solicited without their approval.

That’s right, the companies on the public register were complaining that their details were public. Presumably they’d really rather nobody had this information. We’re talking about companies here, remember, who are supposed to thrive or fail in the brutal world of the free market, not vulnerable individuals.

It’s worth mentioning here that this tendency to think that the stakeholders (hate that word) are those you deal with day-to-day is a pervasive problem in government in all countries, and is one of the reasons why they are failing to benefit from open data the way they should and failing too to retool and restructure for the modern world.

Sure, we can work around these restrictions and probably figure out a way to scrape the data, but it’s a sad day to see one of the pioneers of openness and transparency take such a regressive step. What’s next? Will the DC datastore take down its list of business licence holders, or maybe the DC purchase order data, all of which could be used for making unsoliticited requests to these oversensitive and easily upset businesses?

p.s. Apparently this change was in response to an audit report, which I’ve asked for a copy of but which hasn’t yet been sent to me. Any sleuthing or FOI requests gratefully received.

p.p.s. I also understand there’s also new DC legislation that’s been recently been passed that require further changes to the website, although again the details weren’t given to me, and I haven’t had time to search the DC website for them

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