Here's a novel concept to encourage open government applications: pay your best developers. Apparently that's exactly what the UK's Office of Public Sector Information would like to do now that it has launched Data.gov.uk.
According to a ZDNet report, the agency would like to pay to license mashups when they are used by the government.
Free research and development is a common reason for starting an API, for both commercial and government ventures. However, developers do not always feel there is a fair trade. In some circumstances, providers use the license terms to shut down and then copy the most popular applications, as happened with Amazon and Alexaholic in 2007.
The legal framework isn't quite there in the UK yet, as the ZDNet article points out:
Some developers were cautious about the Data.gov.uk licensing plans. Jonathon Raper, professor of geographical information science at City University London, said that while he welcomed the OPSI proposals, the licence terms and conditions would need to be carefully drafted.
"In principle, it's a truly fabulous idea to take government data, mash it up, give it back to the government, and they pay the developers," said Raper. "But there is a potential danger. Crown copyright is an absolute — the Crown owns this data. If there are loopholes [in the Data.gov.uk licence], the government could come back later and dispute ownership."
If they can get licensing issues figured out, it could blaze a trail that eventually becomes a standard way of compensating the best developers. Acquiring the best mashups is still less expensive than traditional R&D. And it's not unheard of: The Weather Channel bought Weatherbonk (pictured above) and Google acquired Panoramio, both in 2007.