EU public information law extended to cover archives
The European Commission has just published proposed changes to the way archives, museums and libraries deal with public information. MLAs will now be covered by the EU directive on Public Section Information Reuse while before they were exempted along with public broadcasters. This is part of a comprehensive package of very positive reforms to the sector, which intends to promote the opening of public data in Europe.
Neelie Kroes, commission vice president, said: “We are sending a strong signal to administrations today. Your data is worth more if you give it away. So start releasing it now: use this framework to join the other smart leaders who are already gaining from embracing open data."
The directive does not force archives to release materials, but if they do so it means they have to do it in a way that is fair and competitive. The MLAs have been given special status in order to deal with the problem of covering the costs of digitisation. Other public sector bodies covered by the directive are now going to be forced to sell the information at marginal cost pricing. This means the cost of producing one individual copy, which in digital materials is very close to zero. In contrast, MLAs will be allowed to charge a reasonable rate of return. Thus current charging practices will still be allowed
One possible major change for genealogy is that the regulations do not allow exclusive agreements for the distribution of information. Major players such as the British Library and The National Archives have been carefully avoiding giving exclusive rights to any partner in digitisation projects, although in practice nobody may have an incentive to do a second digitisation and distribution of already published materials. However, smaller and regional records offices may have exclusive deals with family history societies or commercial publishers, such as Findmypast, and these deals will now come under scrutiny, although they have several years to change course. The directive still needs to be agreed by the European Parliament along these propositions from the European Commission, and be approved by the Council. Once approved, the UK will have eighteen months to implement it. There are potential conflicts of interests at every step so we should not expect an overnight transformation.
According to the Archives and Records Association, The National Archives will be leading the implementation of the directive and will be consulting with the sector on how to best introduce it to the UK context.
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