Ottawa’s proposed open data licence is good: Expert

The proposed data usage licence for the federal Open Data Portal has got good marks from one of the country’s leading experts in the field.

“I’m quite excited,” David Eaves, a public policy guru who advises governments on a range of issues, said Wednesday about the suggested licence.

“It’s an improvement on the U.K.’s open government licence,” he said, while it’s also compatible. That should encourage developers to create ‘mash-ups’ of data from both countries, he said.

In fact it’s so good he hopes Canadian municipalities, provinces and private sector organizations adopt it.

Treasury Board president Tony Clement revealed the proposed terms this week, which will give application developers who take publicly-posted data from the federal Web site unrestricted reuse of government information subject to some conditions.

Before finalizing the licence, the government wants to hear from the public. Clement hopes it will come into effect next spring.

You can also leave the government comments

Under an open data policy, governments try to make public non-personal datasets they have through a Web portal.

A licence is needed so users can know what they can do with the data, including make commercial applications and combine it with data from other sources.

Eaves, who was consulted before Clement released the proposed licence, said he likes the simple language it uses, which will be understandable by most people.

Other open data licences force users to make detailed attribution of the source, Eaves said, but the federal licence basically says attribute the data to the source, and where possible provide a link to the licence.

Eaves did say he doesn’t care for one of the four proposed exemptions, which doesn’t give users third party rights a federal department isn’t authorized to licence. That would cover data released by the government that includes information from an outside source.

That risks being interpreted as meaning the onus is on a user to figure out which data comes from a third party, Eaves said.

Ottawa wants the public not only to go through the reams of data it is able to release to learn more about the country and government operations, but also to create apps Canadians will find useful.

To kick-start the effort several departments have created apps including a duty and taxes estimator from the Canada Border Services Agency and an interactive soil information app from Agriculture Canada.

Privately-developed efforts include a weather radar app and – perhaps to go along with the duty estimator – a BlackBerry app that shows border crossing delay times.

Part of the justification of the open data movement – and it is global — is that the information gathered by governments has been paid for by taxpayers, so it belongs to them. But governments at all three levels also believe that when the private sector or ordinary citizens create these apps, it takes a load off the backs of government app developers.

They also hope there will be some economic spin-offs if developers are able to commercialize their work.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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