New Regulations which came into force on 24 November 2015 make significant changes to the legal framework governing the release of public sector information for re-use (the “PSI Regime”). 

Public sector bodies within the scope of the PSI Regime must, among other things, (i) implement policies and procedures to deal with their new obligations in respect of requests for public sector information and (ii) compile a comprehensive list of the main documents available for re-use. For businesses and individuals, the amended PSI Regime offers further opportunities to obtain and use information held by public bodies for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in addition to the existing channels including FOI, AIE and the open data portal that was launched earlier this year.

A harmonised framework for the accessing of public sector information was introduced by Directive 2003/98/EC1 and implemented in Ireland by the European Communities (Re-Use of Public Sector Information) Regulations 2005 (the “2005 Regulations”), which were amended in 20082 . Directive 2003/98/EC was amended by Directive 2013/37/EC3 and SI No 525 of 2015 (the “2015 Regulations”) further amend the 2005 Regulations to implement Directive 2013/37/EC.

Under the PSI Regime, which exists in parallel to other statutory access regimes such as Data Protection, Freedom of Information and Access to Information on briefing the Environment, on receipt of a request for re-use of public sector information, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes, a public sector body must now generally release such information in compliance with the requirements set out in the 2005 Regulations (as amended by the 2015 Regulations) within either (i) 40 working days from receipt of the request if it is extensive or complex; or (ii) 20 working days from receipt of the request in any other case. A standard form licence governing such re-use must be used, where possible and appropriate.

The changes to the PSI Regime introduced by the 2015 Regulations include the following:

  • publication - there is a new obligation on public sector bodies to publish a list of their main documents which are available for re-use, along with all relevant metadata;
  • exemptions - the list of information to which the PSI Regime does not apply has been amended and extended and now covers information to which access could be excluded under the Data Protection or AIE regimes;
  • scope - the PSI Regime now applies to documents held by museums, libraries and archives in certain circumstances;
  • format of information - in addition to the existing requirement to make documents available in any pre-existing format or language, the 2015 Regulations also require that, where possible and appropriate, a document be provided in open and machine readable format together with its metadata;
  • charges - the PSI Regime still allows public sector bodies to charge for the provision of public sector information. However, most public sector bodies will only be permitted to charge for the marginal costs incurred in reproducing, providing and disseminating the documents and the ability to obtain a reasonable return on investment in addition to such marginal costs is limited to public bodies required to generate revenue, libraries, university libraries, museums and archives; and
  • digitisation of cultural resources - there are new rules for the granting of exclusive licences in relation to the digitisation of cultural resources including, in particular, the ability to grant long term exclusive licences of up to 10 years.