Public Knowledge Supports Guidelines for Open Government Data
Public Knowledge Supports Guidelines for Open Government Data
Public Knowledge Supports Guidelines for Open Government Data

    Get Involved Today

    Public Knowledge has joined ten other organizations in support of a set
    of existing guidelines for
    releasing public government data in the United States, entitled “Open
    Government Data: Best-Practices Language for Making Data ‘License-Free’”.

    The guidelines were first published in August 2013 and a new and
    improved version was released today. The document states:

    is essential that U.S. federal government agencies have the tools to preserve
    the United States’ long legal tradition of ensuring that public information
    created by the federal government is exempt from U.S. copyright and remains free
    for everyone to use without restriction.

    Data that has no restrictions on reuse is referred to as “license-free”.
    License-free government data promotes both a transparent democracy and
    entrepreneurial innovation. For instance, license-free data can be accessed,
    analyzed, visualized, and shared by academics, journalists, businesspersons,
    and voters.

    To be clear, no one needs to wait for a license to make use of works
    created by the U.S. Government.  Those
    works are, by law, automatically in the public domain.  But, as we detailed in the past, oftentimes parts of the government use licenses that suggest that some uses of
    works are not allowed.

    The copyright status of works produced on behalf of the U.S. Government
    is not as clear. Because of this, the
    guidelines suggest language to include with specific data publications,
    including federal government works, government works produced by a contractor,
    and primary legal materials. This language is intended to clarify the
    license-free principle and its permission for reuse. It is important to note
    that data is “license-free” only if copyright and similar laws do not apply or
    have been waived, and there are no restrictions on use or sharing of the data
    except as set forth in existing law. License-free means without restriction.

    U.S. copyright law specifically states that works created by the federal
    government receive no copyright protection, unless a specific exemption
    applies. Clear language explaining that the data is license-free serves as a
    critical reminder that it can be freely reused and redistributed, without fear
    of legal repercussions.

    Earlier this year, the White House issued an executive order that
    called for government data to be released under “open licenses”. However, this
    licensing creates uncertainty for those who might want to use the data, and
    allows for agencies to arbitrarily impose restrictions on government data that
    is legally in the public domain.  Since
    this data is not protected by copyright, the government cannot even impose a
    share-alike condition on its use. Instead, agencies should use Creative Commons
    Public Domain
    Dedication (CC0) to clarify that their data is completely
    free to be reused.  

    We hope that U.S. federal
    agencies will adopt the recommended language in order to make sure it is known
    that their data publications are in the public domain. As the guidelines state,
    government data is more valuable when it is clear that there is a green light
    enabling reuse.

    And for more about today’s release, check out posts by the Sunlight Foundation, the Open Knowledge Foundation, and Josh Tauberer.