Copyright not applicable to geodata?
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard new questions and opinions about open licensing of geographic information, coming from several different directions. Specifically:
- Local and regional authorities in Italy and in New Zealand among others, have been looking into whether it is appropriate to use a Creative Commons license for geodata.
- Richard Fairhurst of the OpenStreetmap project are attempting to find out whether database right, rather than CC-style copyright, is a potential option for open licensing its data.
- Chris Holmes, having submitted repackaged public domain data with service configurations, the lot under a CC-SA license, to the OSGeo geodata repository, has been seeking informal legal advice from Science Commons, the data licensing arm of Creative Commons.
Chris’s email to the osgeo/geodata list offers some context and the conclusion that copyright-based licenses are inapplicable to geographic information in its state as a “collection of facts”. CC, by this reading, just does not apply to geographic data (though it may apply to a rendered map as a creative expression of the underlying facts). In using a copyright-based license for open data, we risk imposing constraints that are new and unenforceable.
… the Science Commons initiative is about getting science data more available, which unlike geospatial data is something that traditionally has been available for all, only published papers about the data were under copyright. So they would be very hesitant to create a regime for data licensing that would make it easier for people to put more restrictions on their data. They are launching a ‘facts are free’ campaign soon to get across to the world that one can’t copyright scientific data.
The Science Commons FAQ on databases and copyright goes into more detail on to-CC-or-not-to-CC for “factual” information. It mentions that the Creative Commons licenses specific to Belgium and the Netherlands include the database right, but other territory-specific European CC licenses do not. If a Belgium-specific OpenStreetmap clone were to use this license, could it be safely recombined with the global body of open geodata, or not?
Richard pointed to this cogent paper going through some of the relevant case law for database right as it impacts geodata. I’m reminded of James Boyle’s classic FT article on the European Commission’s assessment of the negative economic impact of database right in Europe.
- What does all this imply about the use of Crown Copyright to cover state-collected geographic information in the UK, Canada and elsewhere?
- If a CC- or GPL- derived, copyright-based license is not apt for geodata, what standard forms of “click-use contract” can be recommended now to state agencies looking to provide open access to geodata?