How is the cultural sector responding to changes in PSI regulations, one year on?

As External Relationships Manager for the Research and Education Space, I published a blog post on the RES blog at the affect changes to the PSI Directive are having on cultural institutions, one year on. I’ve reposted it here.

It’s just over a year since the snappily titled ‘The Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2015’ came into force. In this post we look at how we hope the regulations should create a step-change in the amount of open data published by the cultural sector.

The regulations, known as PSI, are significant for the cultural sector as the version that came into force in 2015 extended the scope of earlier directives to include libraries, museum and archives.

PSI means that institutions must make certain documents and information available for re-use. (There are many exceptions to the directive – but they’re not covered in this post).

What is public sector information?

Information that cultural institutions have to make available for re-use under the PSI Directive is what’s been created as part of its ‘public task’. Each institution must define its public task, but effectively it means describing its core business. So any data, documents, images or electronic files, which are part of an institution’s core business, must be made available for re-use and it’s clear this covers data about collections and archives.

Indeed, the National Archives’ guidance says PSI creates an “obligation to allow re-use of most public sector information”.

So given that collections data is covered by PSI, we in RES would argue that one of the simplest and most efficient ways of ensuring that it’s available for re-use is to have it published as linked data with a machine readable open licence.

One aspect of PSI that has caused some institutions some difficulty in considering how they licence their data is the stipulation that museums will not be able to discriminate between different users and that the terms under which documents are published must be equitable for comparable purposes.

However The National Archive (TNA) guidance for cultural sector bodies says:

“Licences should be as open and non-restrictive as possible.”

TNA also recommends the use of The Open Government Licence (OGL) for all public sector bodies where information is supplied for re-use. They do also describe the Non-Commercial Government Licence as an acceptable alternative when the OGL is not suitable.

This is also where the architecture of the RES technical platform helps, as we distinguish between the licensing of data and the licensing of assets. As we’ve described in a previous blog, RES requires that data be openly licensed, but we do not make any stipulation about the licensing of assets. This is not in conflict with PSI as it does not override pre-existing copyright nor does it have an affect on commercial activity that is outside an institution’s public task.

There is plenty of guidance and information for UK cultural institutions about the impact of PSI, both from The National Archives and the National Museum Directors Council.

Europeana have published a useful report and it might be instructive to look at how the British Museum have described their approach to PSI.


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