Tag Archives: council

All your video are belong to us: open licence recordings of local government meetings

I’ve written before about what open licensing is and how to apply it to your pictures; and I’ve called for councils and other public bodies to open licence as many as possible of their photographs.

There’s recently been a welcome and encouraging increase in the number of councils that are live-streaming, or videoing for later consumption, their meetings. Such videos — and similar audio recordings — should also be made available to the public for reuse under open licences, which means no unnecessary restrictions such as “no commercial use” or “no derivatives” (the latter prohibits people from providing edited highlights or making compilations).

Some councils have an old fashioned attitude to the reuse of their videos
Photo by Taki Steve, on Flickr, CC-BY

There are a few reasons why this doesn’t currently happen, and they’re based on reasonable but unfounded concerns. Some council people (employed officers and elected members) are worried that they’ll lose control. They think that people will edit the videos in such as way as to misrepresent what was actually said. And some people will — but such people will do that regardless of the licence in place, and will misrepresent councillors even if only text minutes are available. Councils’ responses should be to point members of the public to the unedited originals, which they will of course host themselves, or on a service such as YouTube, using an account which they control. Are councils really going to resort to copyright law to stifle satire or prevent lobbying? Perhaps they should read about the (where resorting to legislation focusses greater attention on one’s actions than the subject of that action ever could).

Another issue is that some fear that if councillors use videos for political campaigning, that would break the rules on misuse of public money and council resources. The answer is simple: remind councillors of such rules and let them be responsible for their actions.

Such concerns are vastly outweighed by the potential benefits of allowing free (both senses: as in beer and speech) reuse of videos of our democratic processes in action. Bloggers (hyperlocal and others), journalists, lobby groups, Wikipedians and documentary makers will be able to report on the issues discussed by our elected representatives; and this can only encourage more involvement from lay people in the running of the services that they pay for.

Restrictive, non-open licences do not harm mendacious armchair activists, nor satirists, nor rogue politicians; they only hinder people who wish to use the material in a law abiding way to increase such engagement.

What licence is your council using for its videos of meetings?

My thanks to Tom Phillips for suggesting I write this post, for discussion in this evening’s #lgovsm chat on Twitter.

Open local public spending data – a potential hitch

There is — quite rightly, in my autocratic and what-does-humble-mean-anyway opinion — a move to have public bodies publish details of every item of spending over £500. I won’t go into the arguments about this, nor the technical issues, because that’s already been done by wiser heads than mine, Oh, OK, wise heads including mine (see comments on the latter document).

However, one thing in particular concerns me. Sometimes, a body — a local council, say, like, but not specifically, the one I work for — will receive grant funding for a project or activity. Such money usually comes with conditions attached.

Now, suppose this funding has two parts: £99,000 to do something which benefits the community as a whole, and £1,000 which must be spent on something seemingly trivial; say, publicising the activity by producing beermats. No beermats; no £99,000 to spend on a worthwhile activity. Such things do happen, if not literally demanding beermats.

Suppose that £1,000 spend is then published, along with hundreds of other items of expenditure. The finance office of the council will not know about the grant funding, or the conditions attached to it, nor do they need to. They will just add an entry to a database, saying “Acme Beer Mats, 1 April 2011: £1,000”, which will then be made available with all the other enteries in that database, as open data

Along come the Daily FMail and the Taxpayer’s Alliance, and before you know it, the media and (ironically, given my frivolous example) bar-rooms up and down the country are full of “Borsetshire Council wastes money on beermats extravaganza on the rates[sic]” headlines.

No doubt the authority will put out a subsequent press statement pointing out the £99,000 of benefits, the unavoidability of the attached conditions, and so on. And no doubt it will receive little if any press attention.

What can council’s do to prevent this scenario? Annotate every spend item in their published data? Surely impractical. List such items separately? I don’t know (and don’t get me wrong, I’m an open-data advocate; and this is a relatively minor matter, which shouldn’t stop such data from being published), but do I hope somebody has an answer.

Over to you…

Footnote: thanks to for encouraging me to blog my rambling comments on this, made during our earlier discussion.