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(Revised) PSI Directive Theme: Charging

The subject of charging is a key element to the whole Open Government Data and PSI strategy. In (Open data) theory public sector bodies release their data for free which leads to Transparency, new innovative information products, economic growth and new jobs in start-up companies. The resulting taxation gains and social security contributions should outweigh the losses in access fees for the public sector bodies.

Beside this overall principle pricing for public sector information also touches the following aspects:

These OGD and PSI basics did not take place in a sufficient way everywhere. Up to now many public sector bodies like trading funds are reliant upon the income resulting from access fees to public sector information. Benefits from taxation gains and social security contributions accrue to the general budget and not to the relevant public sector bodies. The central governments only rarely compensate the public sector bodies for revenue reduction due to the release of public sector data. Due to all these reasons public sector bodies very often are reluctant to publish their data at an OGD basis.

Therefore the issue of charging was intensively disputed already in the year 2003 during the introduction of the first PSI directive. Since implementation of the 2003 directive till the 2013 revision the relevant public sector bodies could charge a maximum of the cost of collection, production, reproduction and dissemination, together with a reasonable return on investment (Article 6) or the re-use of public sector data. Inspired by the open data development, the 2011 proposal for an amendment of the PSI directive by the European Commission included the marginal costs principle. The total amount of the charges should be limited to the marginal costs incurred for their reproduction and dissemination. In the trialogue negotiations for the directive 2013/37/EC charges were a major topic again and the compromise reached led to a fragmentation of Article 6:

Article 6 now advocates the marginal cost principle, but in exceptional cases a public sector body may apply the provisions regarding charging as laid down in the 2003 PSI Directive. These exceptional cases are:

  1. public sector bodies that are required to generate revenue to cover a substantial part of their costs relating to the performance of their public tasks;
  2. by way of exception, documents for which the public sector body concerned is required to generate sufficient revenue to cover a substantial part of the costs relating to their collection, production, reproduction and dissemination.
  3. libraries, including university libraries, museums and archives.

The European Commission┬┤s guidelines on recommended standard licences, datasets and charging for the reuse of documents are a primary source for the definition of the marginal cost elements. According to these guidelines in an online environment, however, total charges could be limited to the costs relating directly to the maintenance and functioning of the infrastructure (electronic database), subject to what is necessary for reproducing the documents and providing them to one more re-user. Given that average database running costs are low and falling, the figure is likely to be close to zero.

The following Best Practices offer guidance on the issue of data documentation.

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