opensource Thoughts

Data licenses for the geoweb

Andrew summarises  with clarity the current state of licensing for “open” geodata on his blog. This is going to be an emerging theme over the next year as more data becomes available and there is greater awareness of the immature state of data licensing compared to software licensing.

When I touched upon the subject over the summer is was within the context of DRM a scary umbrella term that has too much baggage, but one which at least in an abstract sense describes the problem.

I have no doubt that the open geodata community will go through the difficult and potentially painful process the software industry experienced to reach the current broad range of potential licenses. This is a necessary step for as Andrew points out for many potential data publishers there is no standard license that is close enough to matching their needs.

As this process takes place a good resource is Kevin Promfret’s excellent blog on spatial law who is tracking licensing developments.

Written and submitted from the Google Offices, London (51.495N, 0.146W)

One reply on “Data licenses for the geoweb”

Thanks for raising this issue, Ed.

The legal environment is an increasingly important element in the adoption and use of geospatial data and technology. Right now, there are a number of camps, ranging from “no-license” to locked-down DRM. In the middle, there is Creative Commons and a host of other licensing schemes that allow or prohibit just about any possible use.

The no-license crowd is naive. All data is copyrighted when it’s published. Unless the publisher explicitly places the data into the public domain, the publisher has the right to decide who uses the data and how it’s used. Users need to know what they can do with the data without exposing themselves to legal problems later.

The locked-down DRM crowd thinks they can control and monetize every possible use of their precious data. Their attitude is that if you use their data, they own everything you do.

Neither camp’s approaches are realistic. The uses people have for data are too varied and unpredictable to put into binary categories or umbrella licensing schemes.

Licenses are essential. But, every licensing scheme has elements that make that particular scheme work in some cases and are wildly inappropriate for other cases. How do you chose? Right now, you have to hire a lawyer and hope for the best. There isn’t a lot of objective information available about long-term legal or economic consequences of any licensing scheme.

This is an area that needs a lot of work and standardization. Ed, do you know anybody who’s ready to take this on?

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