In the European Parliament. (International Report)

By Ashling, Jim | Information Today, March 2003 | Go to article overview

In the European Parliament. (International Report)


Ashling, Jim, Information Today


A directive designed to cover the reuse and commercial exploitation of public-sector documents is rapidly making its way through the commitee stages of European Parliament. Following a vote by the Industry External Trade, Research and Energy Committee on Jan. 28, the scope of the proposal's coverage has been widened from documents to include all information in all formats held by public-sector bodies. However, a controversial amendment that would have included "educational and research establishments, such as schools, universities, research facilities, archives, and libraries" as public-sector bodies was withdrawn following strong lobbying efforts by Universities UK (UUK) and the European Universities Association.

Information is now defined by two categories. Basic Information covers anything that pertains to legislation, court judgments, or legislative bodies -- pretty much anything to do with the course of democratic government. This will be provided free of charge to enable the public's full participation in the democratic process. Other Information is everything that's not covered by the first definition. It will be provided at cost. A list of which databases are held by the Member States and which information falls into each category will be made freely available on the Internet.

The proposed directive is intended to establish a minimum set of rules that govern the commercial and noncommercial exploitation of existing public-sector information. The public sector collects, collates, and disseminates information in many areas of activity, including social, economic, geographic, weather, tourist, patent, and education data. The committee hopes that if more use is made of public-sector information, the general public and companies will be able to take greater advantage of the internal market.

The proposal was developed after the publication of a green paper on public-sector information in the information society. This was then followed by a wide consultation process. In their responses, universities, museums, and libraries expressed great concern that many of the services they provide are partially funded by making a reasonable return on information costs, not simply cost recovery.

In a submission from The British Library, chief executive Lynne Brindley stated that a wide-ranging definition of public-sector bodies would be "disastrous for The British Library." Natalie Ceeney, the library's director of operations and services, explained that this issue is particularly important because organizations like The British Library generate and possess a vast quantity of information and content (such as books, photographs, and Web sites) for which they, not third parties, own the copyright.

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