The TLA nobody likes : DRM

I’ve spent last week at the Open Geospatial Consortium Technical Committee meeting held at the truly stunning Stata Center building of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Stata Center MIT
Stata Center MIT

Very much business as usual for this important standards making body, but on the first day of the meeting there was a one day summit on the specific issue of Digital Rights Management as it relates to Geospatial data and services.

Before you all run for the exit, shouting “look at the music industry..” the management of rights to information is a topic far greater in scope than copy protection, and is of particular relevance today for  the Geospatial industry.

Adena who was at the meeting has provided a good summary in Directions Magazine, my overall impression is that at last the focus is moving on to the problems which need solving, and that solving them is not really an issue of technology.

As far as I am concerned there is a clear work-flow component to rights management around geospatial data, which it is useful to work through.

Firstly you must want to share your geospatial information, an obvious point but the motivation to share and how strong that motivation is drives all the remaining choices around management of rights of others to access and use your data.

It you really want the widest distribution of your information possible with no “strings attached” there you put your information into the public domain as is the case with federally funded datasets in the USA. Putting geospatial data into the public domain means you have no control whatsoever as to how the data might be used, by whom and under what commercial arrangement.

Outside of the US government very little geospatial data is put into the public domain, instead some form of license is usually established, which provides the user of the data with a set of rights to use the data with some restrictions.

The creation of licenses for information on the web has been hugely simplified by the great people at Creative Commons, who have developed their CC licenses which are simple and offer the type of control over how information is used that meets most peoples needs online.

However the series of CC licenses does not really meet the requirements of expressing rights to a database, which by its nature is not a creative work but a collection of facts. This is one of the reasons the OpenStreetMap Foundation seems to be moving away from the current CC license.

The development of Generic licenses for geospatial data or any database for that matter is relatively immature, as I understand it OpenStreetMap is moving towards adopting the new ODbL license. At different approach is taken by Creative Science an organisation aiming to follow the example of the CC movement but for databases who have come up with the cc0 (CC Zero) license, a license for database which is a formal express of public domain like rights.

Commercial organisations have developed their own licenses that meet their own specific needs such as the Google Map Maker Data license.

This remains a complex and little understood area in the community, with organisations wanting to restrict rights to demand attributions, force third parties to license derived information in the same way, restrict use to non commercial uses etc, and trying to do so without much consistency.

The focus of the DRM activities at the OGC have largely skipped these issues instead concentrating on technical means to encode and transfer licenses using technologies like GeoXACML .

This is all very good, and will at some point in the future be needed, however the point I made at the summit this week is that we are perhaps putting the cart before the horses here, until we can get simpler and more robust licenses to protect geospatial data, there is little point in developing the services that may sit around them.

We may also have to accept that for these licenses to be successful they need to be simple, and may not offer as much fine grained control over rights to databases as some database owners might like.

Kudos to Graham my old friend at the OS for organising the meeting which attracted many from outside the OGC community and provided a great platform to debate the issue.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

7 replies on “The TLA nobody likes : DRM”

The music industry has been dragging their feet since the Napster era.. I like Microsoft’s quote: The battle for music piracy was lost years ago! (eg we are NOT going to lock down access to the sound card – as that would damage gaming – and all media industries).

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