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The Open Government Licence, and the re-use of Public Sector Information

– why so poorly understood or adopted in Scotland?

Public Sector Information (PSI) is information that has been created by Public Bodies. In 2003 The EU published “Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of public sector information, known as the PSI Directive. This is an EU directive that stipulates minimum requirements for EU member states regarding making public sector information available for re-use. This directive provides a common legislative framework for this area. The Directive is an attempt to remove barriers that hinder the re-use of public sector information throughout the Union.” [1]

In 2005 the UK Government introduced its own regulations. [2] And ten years later the it introduced the Reuse of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 [3] which set out the framework for UK public sector bodies sharing information and data in line with those requirements. The National Archives produced guidance for both public bodies, and for would-be re-users of the info and data. [4]

Re-use means using public sector information for a purpose different from the one for which it was originally produced, held or disseminated.

Why is PSI valuable

“Public sector information constitutes a vast, diverse and valuable pool of resources. In Market Assessment of Public Sector Information (commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in 2013), the value of public sector information to consumers, businesses and the public sector itself in 2011/12 was estimated to be approximately £1.8 billion (in 2011 prices). [5]

“Re-use of public sector information provides enormous opportunities for economic and social benefits, while also promoting transparency and accountability of the public sector.” [5]

Why PSI must be reusable

Re-use of public sector information stimulates the development of innovative new information products and services in the UK and across Europe, thus boosting the information industry.

“The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015 [have been] in force from 18 July 2015. They build on the prior 2005 Regulations which removed obstacles to the re-use of public sector information. The 2015 Regulations harmonise and relax the conditions of re-use for public sector information, and bring the cultural sector into scope. The 2015 Regulations continue to improve transparency, fairness and consistency among public sector bodies and re-use of their information. [6]

How is information and data licensed for re-use?

Public bodies, up until 2010 were obliged to make information and data available under a PSI Click-Use Licence. [7] In 2010 this was superseded by V1.0 of the Open Government Licence ( or OGL). The latter has been updated twice and is now at version 3.0. [8]

Where is information and data in Scotland licenced for re-use?

While several local authorities, The Scottish Government and a few government agencies have published open data either on dedicated portals or in sections of their websites explicitly licensed under Open Government Licence (OGL 3), almost no organisations make website content so available for re-use despite an obligation to do so for almost 20 years.

When I worked at Aberdeen City Council, trying to get senior managers in numerous services and departments to make information and data available under OGL or its predecessor was a non-starter. The legal department at the time didn’t support it. And any conversation pushed it further down the line as a ‘nice-to-do’. And we weren’t alone. No council that I can recall was doing this as standard for their websites.

The one notable, and welcome exception, that I am aware of, was The Scottish Government. Since at least 2015 they’ve permitted reuse under OGL, albeit behind a Crown Copyright link at the foot of each website page. But Since April 2022 they explicitly had an open licence statement on each page. Unfortunately this doesn’t carry through to other public body sites, at least not explicitly. With over 180 to check [8] it is difficult to be absolutely certain.

The OGL and Copyright statement on the current Scottish Government Website

I personally, and with various groups, have campaigned for the Scottish public sector to meet their obligations under RPSI 2015. In November 2018 I responded to the consultation on the Scotland Draft Action Plan on Open Government[9]:

“There is one simple thing that could be done with immediate impact, and minimal effort, to free up large amounts of data and information for public re-use: adopt an Open Government Licence (OGL) for all published website information and data on the Scottish Government’s website(s), and other public sector sites, the only exception being where this cannot legally be done, as would be the case when personal data is involved.”

I continued:

“At present, websites operated by Scottish Government, local authorities, health boards etc.  all appear to have blanket copyright statements. I certainly could find no exception to that. With OGL-licensed content, where data is not yet available as Open Data (OD), a page published as HTML could be legitimately scraped and transformed to open data by third parties as the licence would permit that. “


“The Scottish Government should mandate this approach not just for the whole of the public sector but also for companies performing contracts on behalf of Government, or who are in receipt of public funding or subsidy.”

In work in 2019, revisited in 2020, I looked in more detail at how local authorities in Scotland conformed to their obligations under RPSI regulations. [10] At that point 25 of 32 did not licence web content under OGL at all. Only one authority got it right, and the remainder, six authorities, had a stab at granting permission.

Why mention this now?

In March 2022 was lead author of a report for The David Hume Institute: “What is Open Data and Why Does it Matter?”[11] In that report, which set out the economic, social, environmental drivers for opening government data, I also highlighted that most councils failed to make their website data and information available for re-use under a clear licence.

Today in a Tweet, Councillor Anthony Carroll, stated “At today’s Glasgow Digital Board, a paper I’ve pushed for passed on @GlasgowCC ‘s website content to have an Open Government License. This means anyone can re-use website content (with attributation) instead of it being copyrighted”. [12] He then reference the DHI paper which I authored.

So, well done to Councillor Carroll and to Glasgow City Council.

Now we need COSLA to push all local authorities to do the same. And, as I asked in 2018 and again in 2022, for Scottish Government to compel all public bodies to fulfil their legal obligations and do this properly.

Ian Watt

10 March 2023


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directive_on_the_re-use_of_public_sector_information (CC-BY-SA V3)
  2. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management/re-using-public-sector-information/regulations/
  3. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/1415/contents/made
  4. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management/re-using-public-sector-information/about-psi/psi-valuable/
  5. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management/re-using-public-sector-information/about-psi/psi-must-re-usable/
  6. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management/re-using-public-sector-information/uk-government-licensing-framework/open-government-licence/
  7. https://opendata.scot/organizations/
  8. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/
  9. https://codethecity.org/2019/11/15/response-to-scotlands-draft-action-plan-on-open-government/
  10. https://github.com/watty62/SOD/blob/master/OGL_content.md
  11. https://davidhumeinstitute.org/research-1/research-what-is-open-data
  12. https://twitter.com/_anthonycarroll/status/1633903590740770841?s=61&t=XsLcJSnpR1TgzOpce8dhhQ

Header Image: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management/government-licensing/ogl-symbol.htm

This page contains quoted text from government pages which are licensed under the Open Government Licence, and a Wikipedia page which is licensed as CC-BY-SA, all of which are referenced at the foot of the article.

[Edited for clarity 11 March 2023]

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