European Union directives related to GI include the PSI directive on the re-use of public sector information and the INSPIRE directive.2 What is the difference? They overlap to a certain extent, but the PSI directive focuses on reuse of public sector information, while the INSPIRE directive focuses on sharing GI with the public sector. INSPIRE stipulates which standards to use for exchanging and sharing data, but neither of these directives regulates market activities. Although both stipulate a preference for a marginal-costs pricing regime, EU member states are still allowed to use the cost-recovery regime.

The Dutch legislation governing the use and reuse of geo information is the Wet openbaarheid van bestuur, which is generally equivalent to the American Freedom of Information Act. There is also contract law that comes into play in some situations. In the Netherlands public sector organizations are excluded from fair trade legislation, but that is currently under review. There is protection-of-privacy legislation as well, which states that if there is any information that can be traced directly back to a person, then it is not allowed for reuse. Finally, there is specific legislation such as the Cadastre Act, discussed in more detail below.

Up until the mid-1990s, public sector organizations could set their own conditions and prices for marketing PSI. They could market it themselves, or they could give it away, but the latter was not a common approach. The private sector complained vociferously about unfair trading practices. This resulted in a report3 that made a number of sweeping recommendations. One recommendation was that public sector organizations should not engage in market activity in competition with the private sector. The Cohen report listed a number of exceptions having to do with core tasks, however. One exception was that while public sector organizations should not be allowed to add value to their own information with the goal of making the information more attractive for reselling it; they should be permitted to add value if this is required in order to fulfill their essential mission.

Another recommendation in the report was that the marketing activities of several public sector organizations should be reviewed. For example, the National Meteorology Office and the Cadastre were reviewed. The result was that a number of these organizations were privatized outright, while others, like the Met Office, had to give up their commercial arms. If they were going to sell their data for reuse, they had to do it through an intermediary, in order to create a level playing field with a full-cost recovery regime.

The report also published guidelines for national public sector bodies that are not covered by their own specific legislation. The guidelines stated that if a public sector organization were to engage in economic activities because the private sector would not or could not, then all costs must be passed on in the charges. Basically, a public sector body was not allowed to give its data away free, because if it did, it would be competing unfairly with the private sector. So, if there were to be competition, it would be on a level


Commission of the European Communities. 2007. Directive 2007/2/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 March 2007 establishing an Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community. Found at


 Markt en Overheid (Market Functioning, Deregulation and Quality of Legislation). 1998. ‘Eindrapport’ van de MDW-werkgroep (commissie Cohen). Ministerie van Economische Zaken: Den Haag.

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