Does UK Government Grok the GPL?

This is really quite interesting. It seems as though the UK government are starting, finally, to get the whole “Commons” thing.

There is this Government Department/Quango(?) called the Office of Public Sector Information (OSPI for short). Yep, I’ve never heard of them either. Not until I saw this tweet from Glyn Moody last night at any rate. The OSPI’s remit is (according to their website) as follows:

Operating from within the National Archives, the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) is at the heart of information policy, setting standards, delivering access and encouraging the re-use of public sector information. OPSI provides a wide range of services to the public, information industry, government and the wider public sector relating to finding, using, sharing and trading information.

The merger of OPSI with the National Archives in October 2006 enables the combined organisation to provide strong and coherent leadership for the development of information policy across government and the wider public sector.

OPSI has an important role as a regulator of public sector information holders for their information trading activities. The Information Fair Trader Scheme (IFTS) founded on the principles of openness, transparency, fairness, compliance and challenge helps re-users of public sector information to know that they will be treated reasonably and fairly. OPSI also investigates complaints against public sector information holders made under the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations.

OPSI provides the Click-Use system for obtaining a licence to re-use Crown copyright and public sector material through an online licensing process and is responsible for the Information Asset Register (IAR) that lists information assets held by the UK Government with a focus on unpublished material. OPSI also provides a secretariat to the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (APPSI), which advises Ministers on how best to encourage the re-use of public sector information.

Operating from within OPSI, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO) continues to exist and fulfil its core activities including responsibility for the publication of legislation and the management of Crown copyright.

Got that? Good. Although I’m still not sure I know what they “do”. I can see they are “at the heart of information policy” but anyway, let’s assume they do something important and worthy within the huge bureaucracy that is UK Government. The big news is they now have a blog! Called perspectives. The most interesting article (from 3 so far) on their new blog is this one where they introduce a new “Licensing Model” and are, more importantly, soliciting feedback:

The Government’s response to the Power of Information Taskforce’s recommendation 8 stated that OPSI was developing a new licence model, building on the success of the Click-Use Licence. We thought it would be good to post our initial thoughts about what the new licence terms could look like here on our blog for your comments.

Here’s the bit that caught Glyn’s eye and makes all us Freedom lovers go weak at the knees…

• The new licence terms are compatible with other standard licences such a Creative Commons and GNU GPL;

How interesting. I am not sure that I understand the full implications of the new license and what content/information it really pertains to, but the description of their remit above would suggest that it could be far reaching. Anyway, here is the license they propose in full below, but please don’t make specific license comments here, comment about the license over there, where the OSPI will see them.

Terms and conditions


This licence explains how you may re-use a wide range of public sector information and what conditions apply. Under this licence the term information means any content, including any part of such content, whether in writing or stored in electronic form or as a sound, visual or audio-visual recording, other than computer programs and software.

What you can do

1. You can copy, publish, translate into other languages, adapt, mash and convert to Braille and other formats for people who are visually impaired.

What information is covered

2. All Crown copyright information can be re-used under this licence apart from the specific exemptions listed below.

3. Information produced by other public sector organisations as listed at [link to be inserted].

What information is not covered

4. Crown copyright information produced by government departments and trading funds that are responsible for licensing the re-use of the information they commission or produce. Details of these organisations can be found at [link to be inserted]

5. Information where re-use is not permitted for policy reasons, for example the HSE Health and Safety Law poster.

6. Information that is exempt under Freedom of Information legislation and the Environmental Information Regulations.

7. Personal information about named individuals.

8. Official imprints, public sector organisation logos, badges, crests and insignia of the armed forces. This includes the Royal Arms unless they form an integral part of the information that you are re-using.

Your obligations

9. You must:

• Re-use the information accurately
• Acknowledge the copyright and the source of the information, for example the title of a report and the name of the department that issued it.
• Not re-use the information in a deliberately misleading way.
• Not re-use the information for promotional or advertising purposes; not to imply endorsement by a government department or other public sector organisation.
• Not mimic the style and appearance of the original information, for example by replicating the look and feel of a published document or a departmental website.


Your use of the information covered by this licence is entirely at your own risk. OPSI makes no warranty, representation or guarantee that the information is error free.

Governing law

This licence is made under the laws of England and Wales and comes under the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.

There are a couple of comments already and they cover the obvious.

Not being a lawyer I am not sure if I quite “get” why they (we?) need a new license though? Why could they not simply use any of the CC licenses as appropriate?

Anyway, if you spot anything in the detail or wish to simply make your voice heard, you know where to go.

Petition for ODF at the National Archive

Thanks to Russell Ossendryver for pointing this out.

Recently it was announced that National Archives are converting their stock of electronic documents into Microsoft Open XML format. This format is not supported outside of Microsoft’s own products and ties the public to purchasing Microsoft Office should they wish to view the products, which is a cost of around £80-£120 depending on version. It also ties a user to purchasing Microsoft Windows which is a cost of roughly £150 for the Basic edition or purchasing a new PC with Windows which is a cost of at around £200 for a new machine. Instead Open Document Format which is an accepted ISO standard unlike Open XML should be used. Open Document Format is supported on many major platforms and is freely available at no charge. It includes all the necessary features for documents otherwise it would not be the ISO standard. There should not be a £250 charge to use Microsoft for accessing the National Archives electronically especially in light of the companies ongoing litigation with the EU regarding its anti-competitive actions.

Since the recent vote by the ISO, the bit about OOXML not being a standard is now obsolete unless there is a formal complaint made within 2 months. Also, M$ Office can cost a great deal more than £120 if you want any of the (more useful) enterprise features. Of course, Open Source offers them for free.

Nevertheless, although I doubt it will make much difference to the choice of document format used by the UK’s publicly owned National Archive, as it seems to have been infiltrated by Microsoft’s puppets at senior levels, it may well help to raise the profile of ODF and to the UK government.

And of course, it’s just fun to be able to make your point somewhere.

Open Source Solution for the UK National Archive?

This old story gets even more ridiculous. The fact that the head of the national library is a co-chair and obvious supporter of M$’s OOXML specification, led our National Archive to spend yet more money with Microsoft for a solution that will actually NOT fix the problem. More documents will be stored in a, as yet non-standardised and closed, document format. That will, eventually require us to spend even more money yet again just to get access to old electronic documents.

It seems our antipodean partners have come up with a solution: It’s called Xena. And it’s Open Source and uses the GPL.

Xena is free and open source software developed by the National Archives of Australia to aid in the long term preservation of digital records. Xena is an acronym meaning ‘Xml Electronic Normalising for Archives’.

Xena software aids digital preservation by performing two important tasks:

  • Detecting the file formats of digital objects
  • Converting digital objects into open formats for preservation

Now this sounds like a very decent solution. Read that last bullet once more:

  • Converting digital objects into open formats for preservation

Adam Farquhar and the National Archive of Great Britain please take note…

National Archive being scammed!

I really can’t believe it (well O.K. I can – it’s just M$ being M$), but here in the UK the National Archive Office (the place that is SUPPOSED to look after all our important documents) is being duped by Microsoft.

They are working with the evil empire Microsoft to enable access to their old Word and other proprietary document formats by – get this – running M$’s vitual machines so they can have Windows 95 and old versions of MS Office running on top of more Microsoft software, to get access to these files!

Then, to add insult to plain stupidity, they are singing the praises of M$’s OOXML specification. Yes, that 6000 page document, calling itself a technical specification that contains, amongst other things:

  • Bugs that mean dates before 1900 are handled incorrectly
  • 60 pages of CLIPART!!!!!
  • Technical implementation notes like “DoLikeWord95”
  • Proprietary encryption routines that don’t conform to ISO approved standards and have not been verified safe
  • Implementation details kept hidden or removed from public scrutiny so only M$ will be able to fully implement it
  • A strong reliance on a single vendor’s operating system.

Why oh Why oh Why are they being so stupid?

Yesterday, Sun released a free ODF plug-in for Microsoft’s Office product line which allows bi-directional conversion to and from proprietary, closed and locked file formats, and the ISO approved Open Document Format.

Surely, that seems a far more sensible route than having more M$ software, virtualised, running yet more M$ software ( and old software at that) just to get access to your files?

The National Archive news item is here:…

Sun’s ODF Plugin can be downloaded from here:….

If you are at all interested in this issue, please write, email, telephone the National Archive office and your MP. This action is NOT in the public’s interest. They will find themselves going down a road that will lead to one company only having control over your national archive… Think about it.

Oh yes. And the other very interesting fact on the news item is this: “Adam Farquhar, Head of eArchitecture at the British Library and co-chair of the Office OpenXML standards committee said:…” Head of our British Library AND chair of Microsoft’s document specification steam roller? Hmmmm… doesn’t sound too impartial to me, does it to you?