What do the changes to PSI regulations mean for libraries?


Public sector and university libraries have been excluded from the provisions of the European Directive on the re-use of public sector information (PSI). Under amendments to that Directive adopted in June 2013, that position is about to change.

The 2003 Directive on the re-use of public sector information (the PSI Directive) was intended to remove many barriers to the re-use of PSI across the European Union. The Directive was implemented in the UK through the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005

What does re-use mean?

Under the PSI Regulations, re-use means any use of public sector information for a purpose other than that for which it was originally produced. To take an everyday example, local authority tree preservation orders are produced and held to protect and enhance important trees in the local environment. That information is re-used when we consider buying a property and request a property search, which includes whether the house you’re considering purchasing has a protected tree, and so helps you decide whether or not to buy. Re-use covers a wide range of activities including commercial publication.

Certain types of public sector bodies fell outside the scope of the Directive and, therefore, the PSI Regulations. This included libraries as well as broadcasters, cultural bodies (theatres, museums and archives), and research and educational establishments, including schools and universities. This is not to say that these organisations were not able to make their public sector information available for re-use or indeed re-use it themselves, just that such public sector bodies were not subject to the terms of the PSI Regulations.

Role of The National Archives

In 2010, the European Commission launched a Europe-wide consultation to measure the impact of the PSI Directive. Responses indicated that although considerable progress had been made, notably in the UK, barriers remained which prevented the full potential of PSI from being realised.

The Commission published proposed amendments to the PSI Directive in December 2011, and after negotiations at European level, theamended Directive was adopted in June 2013. The National Archives, which has policy responsibility for PSI re-use, needs to ensure that the amended Directive is transposed into UK law before the Commission’s deadline of July 2015. 

Changes for UK public sector libraries

The changes being introduced are set out in The National Archives’ Introductory Guide. The main points for UK public sector libraries to note are: 

  • The provisions are extended to cover PSI held by public sector museums, archives and libraries, including university libraries, but;
  • For libraries, it will not be mandatory to allow re-use, and charges for re-use will not be capped at marginal cost.

All information available for re-use

So what will this mean in practice? Any information that is held by a library will potentially be available to be re-used. A re-user can apply to re-use the information, and that request will have to be handled as specified in the amended PSI Regulations. 

It will be open to a library to refuse a request, but only where the information has not already been re-used (either by the library itself or by another re-user) for a similar purpose. 

For example, if a library holds a set of attractive images, and licenses them to be re-used by a calendar publisher, then it must be open for other calendar publishers to use the same images on equal terms. Exclusive licensing is prohibited under the Directive unless there are exceptional circumstances. For example, without any form of exclusivity libraries and archives may find it difficult to find a commercial partner which is prepared to make a substantial financial investment in a digitisation project. For that reason the Directive makes provision for exclusive agreements up to a maximum of ten years. 

Accessible information

Another key principle is that only accessible information is potentially re-usable.  For example, if a library has already made certain information available, say by supplying it in response to a Freedom of Information request or by publishing the information, it is potentially re-usable. But information which contains personal information about living, named individuals would not be re-usable. 

Copyright held by third party

A particularly important exclusion for libraries to note is that of information in which the copyright is held by a third party. This is important because libraries tend to hold material which is originated by others. Under UK copyright law only the copyright holder is legally entitled to authorise the right to re-use, copy or publish the material.  

How to keep informed

The National Archives is working with Universities UK and the British Library to produce advice and guidance for public sector libraries on the changes in the amended Directive and the forthcoming UK legislation. If you want to keep informed of developments and advice as it is issued, we suggest that you subscribe to our RSS Feed. For Knowledge Hub members, there is also a Re-use Group to join, which will contain details of events and guidance.

What do the changes to PSI regulations mean for libraries?

Let us know in the comments below.


Image source: "Reduce, Re-Use, Recyle," by marcusq, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Original cropped and resized

Update magazine

This article was originally published in CILIP Update Magazine, August 2014.

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