[Geodata] Re: [OSGeo-Discuss] Promoting freely available geodata

Chris Holmes cholmes at openplans.org
Fri Mar 30 18:59:25 EDT 2007

Do you have a link to the Database Directive stuff on osm-talk?  I checked
out the list but there's a lot there and wasn't sure which posts to read.

I just got off the phone with the lead counsel of Science Commons, which
is the branch of CC made to deal with data.  It was an interesting
conversation, though unfortunately not much good news for CC licenses for

The very quick story is that they don't believe copyright can be applied
to any geospatial data.  Thus creative commons licenses don't work, since
they depend on copyright.  So people providing data have two options -
public domain or make a contract that completely restricts it.

The longer story is that 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.

I can see this strategy working decently for science, but unfortunately it
doesn't for geospatial.  The legacy we're dealing with is that maps are
power, and something to be kept private for military advantage or economic
gain.  We really want a regime that gives a variety of licenses that are
more restrictive than public domain but less so than completely keeping

The lawyer at CC definitely 'got' this, but unfortunately it doesn't line
up with their mission, since most of the topics they're pushing on benefit
from the fact that you can't copyright facts.

He did give some insight in to how one would make such a regime of
licenses if one wanted to.  Copyright law doesn't work, since you can't
copyright data.  Maps can be copyrighted, but if you can reverse engineer
and extract the data out of them, then that result can not be copyrighted.

So what you would have to do is use contract law.  It would be a contract
similar to a non-disclosure agreement - you can't disclose the information
contained in this database unless you follow the set terms.  And you could
do copyleft type things in the terms, but it's definitely trickier, and
you somehow have to get people to accept that contract.  Which I suppose
isn't insurmountable, since Google Maps and their data providers manage to
get you to accept a contract to not reverse engineer and use tiles off
line and the like.

He was also worried a bit about license incompatibilities, but personally
since they're are practically no open data licenses, that's not so much a
worry for me.

So unfortunately CC isn't going to be much help to us.  CC themselves
believe pure data licensed under the CC isn't enforceable in any way,
since it's not copyrightable and so their license doesn't apply.  And
Science Commons (who anyone in CC will point you to if you want to do
data, because CC is for creative works) can't really touch it since it
sort of works against their mission.

So if we want to do this right we need to find a lawyer who would
construct a set of contracts for us and guidelines on how to apply them
and get others to accept them.  Ideally I think we'd have an 'lgpl' type
option where only modifications to the database need to also be open, and
a 'gpl' one where anything derived has to be similarly open (which would
make it incompatible with things).

Though I suppose we could also just recommend CC, and not tell people that
once they put it out there it's really in the public domain ;)  (since CC
wouldn't go to bat for it, it effectively is since it's uncopyrightable
facts that we can easily copy).

best regards,


On Fri, March 30, 2007 1:24 pm, SteveC wrote:
> Dear all
> It's incredibly cool that governments are thinking of using CC foe
> geodata.
> Our legal-talk and other lists have found a whole ton of problems with
> it though (we use a CC license in OSM).
> I'd be super interested in seeing the results and if any lawyers think
> that they're valid for geodata - and if they looked at the Database
> Directive and its impact. As would we all on legal-talk.
> Arnulf Christl wrote:
>> On Fri, March 30, 2007 06:36, Tim Bowden wrote:
>>> On Thu, 2007-03-29 at 08:22 +1000,
>>> nicholas.g.lawrence at mainroads.qld.gov.au wrote:
>>>> discuss-bounces at lists.osgeo.org wrote on 28/03/2007 04:45:26 PM:
>>>>> On of the aims of OSGeo is the promotion of open geodata.  From
>>>>> conversations I've had with various people over time it appears
>>>>> one of the difficulties data providers may have with this is
>>>>> licensing. There's no obvious candidate license for open geodata.
>>>>> Do we need
>>>>> something like OSI approved licenses for geodata?  Are there any
>>>>> existing OSI licenses that suit?  If so, we should be pointing to
>>>> them.
>>>>> Do we need input from those with a legal clue?  Should we be
>>>>> talking
>>>> to
>>>>> OSI about this?
>>>>> Just thought I'd raise the issue and see what others think.
>>>>> Tim Bowden
>>>> I can report that the government in Queensland, Australia is
>>>> considering the creative commons liscence for releasing publically-
>>>> available geodata. It is not final, but close to it.
>>>> nick
>>> Nick, this is great news.  Can't wait for this idea to infect other
>>> govt's in our region.  The idea that user pays /in every instance/ has
>>>  taken hold much too firmly down here (especially when we have
>>> already paid through our taxes!).
>>> Regards,
>>> Tim Bowden
>> Several states in Germany (we are federal, everybody runs in a
>> different direction) are also considering to use a CC license to protect
>> some of their data and publish it for Open and Free access. We are
>> currently trying to convince them that the non-commercial-use clause
>> might be more anti-commercial in its effect than it will help them to
>> earn money but whichever way it goes, it is the right overall direction.
>> This is one
>> exmaple of what is there already: http://www.geoportal.rlp.de/ Btw: The
>> portal is built on Open Source completely. Some 70+ services are
>> already available, they come in all makes and colors. Most of the data
>> is currently not protected by any license at all, some have a copyright
>> tag somewhere. It is a pain, but it is getting better. Never stop
>> talking to them, they need all the moral support they can get. :-)
>> Regards,
>> Arnulf Christl
>> _______________________________________________
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>> Discuss at lists.osgeo.org
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> --
> have fun,
> SteveC steve at asklater.com http://www.asklater.com/steve/
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Chris Holmes
The Open Planning Project

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