It was all a dream: Land Registry’s Price Paid dataset isn’t really open data after all.

Post: 8 January 2015

Last month I sent Land Registry the following query:

Land Registry’s Price Paid Data has been released under the terms of the Open Government Licence (OGL). The Open Government Licence includes an exemption for “third party rights the Information Provider is not authorised to license”.

Does the Price Paid Data, in the form published for re-use, include any third-party content that Land Registry is not authorised to license under the OGL?

Today I received this response:

… the vast majority of addresses in Land Registry’s Price Paid Data will have been created or validated using OS AddressBase (which includes Royal Mail PAF data).

On this basis, there are third party rights in addresses in the Price Paid Data which, at present, Land Registry is not authorised to license under the OGL.

Land Registry is currently in discussions with Ordnance Survey and Royal Mail about this and we expect that the matter will be concluded shortly and that a statement will then be made to clarify the position.

There is some context. I was following up on a previous Land Registry reply to a FOI request from Peter Wells, as well an earlier article I wrote about the Price Paid dataset. But the key point is this:

Land Registry’s Price Paid Data – arguably the most significant open data release from the Public Data Group under the current government – isn’t open after all.

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Land Registry’s application of the Open Government Licence is, for practical purposes, inoperative. The OGL provides licensees with no legal basis on which to re-use Price Paid Data.

Price Paid is basically an address dataset. It does contain some additional fields: data of transfer, property type, the transaction price itself. But that information is useless without addresses to attach it to – and Land Registry now says it has no authority to license those addresses.

The position is essentially the same as that for Land Registry’s INSPIRE Index Polygons – labelled with the Open Government Licence but in practice unusable as open data because of Ordnance Survey’s intellectual property rights. But at least with that dataset we knew from the start that the release was a sham.

The status of Price Paid Data is a more serious embarrassment for the Government’s open data policy. Announced in Autumn Statement 2011 as part of a package of “core reference data” to be made available under the Open Government Licence, Price Paid Data was released in three tranches beginning in March 2012. In other words for nearly three years we have been given the false impression that we were free to make use of the data as we pleased. Nobody mentioned the barrier presented by OS’s and Royal Mail’s interests.

Given that OS and Royal Mail have apparently not taken any action to prevent re-use of Price Paid Data, there is some reason to be hopeful that the licensing status will be resolved in favour of open data. It would look bad for all concerned if Land Registry had to withdraw the dataset.

I’m still not entirely convinced that “derived data” is unassailable legally, particularly with regard to data collected for public registers. Ordnance Survey is fond of the concept, but it’s never really been tested in court. However it seems I was wrong to suggest the Open Addresses team were being overly cautious in deciding not to use Price Paid Data for the time being. Now Land Registry has conceded it cannot properly authorise re-use, any of us would be foolish to rely on the data for serious purposes until the position is clarified.

With that in mind, BIS are currently running a survey on Public Data Group data. Let them know what you think …

Image credit: a crying blue face by Jgsho (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Posted in Benefits of open data, Informing Decision-making, Posts from feeds, Transparency Tagged with: , , , ,