Public sector information: officially better when shared

Following up on the stunning Power of Information Review (PoIR), comes the snappily-titled Models of Public Sector Information Provision via Trading Funds. This new research, published yesterday, looks at the way public sector bodies charge for commercial and non-commercial reuse of non-personal public sector information. It was commissioned after PoIR recommendations made by Messrs Steinberg (Director of mySociety) and Mayo (Director of the NCC), and was performed by a crack squad of Cambridge University academics, including Rufus Pollock (ORG Director). In all honesty we have not yet read all of the 100+ pages of dense economic theory, but this great piece of news jumps out:

“…in most cases, a marginal cost regime would be welfare improving – that is, the benefits to society of moving to a marginal cost regime outweighed the costs.”

Amongst others, the Free our Data campaign has pushed Government to review its policy on restrictive licensing for public sector information provision. This new evidence adds great weight to their case that, rather than selling data for profit, trading funds should only charge data re-users the marginal cost of production. In practice, this means Government should give away data to boost private-sector enterprises because it will, as a direct result, bolster the public purse through increased taxation.

This new research should kick-start reform of the Crown Copyright regime and more liberal access to the data-treasure-troves collated by the Met Office, DVLA, Companies House and the Land Registry.

And if you get excited by material that’s free to access, reuse or re-distribute, then please come down to tomorrow’s OKCon, for a day of seminars and workshops around the theme of ‘Applications, Tools and Services’. The event runs 10.30 – 18.30, Saturday 15 March 2008, at the LSE. For full details and to sign up, click through to the Open Knowledge Foundation.