Licensing Geographic Data and Services


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1. Your relationship with Google.

Because states, tribes, regional groups, counties, and cities have a wide range of datasharing policies, the federal government is increasingly forced to address licensing issues for the data it acquires. The committee was charged with six tasks: 1. Each of these tasks is now addressed in turn. Nonetheless, all federal agencies that provided input to the committee have acquired data under license from commercial vendors. Their reasons for doing so vary from being able to make maps faster and less expensively to having no alternative source of data meeting specific needs.

Reactions to licensing differ from agency to agency, although there appears to be a general consensus that any cost advantage offered by acquiring licensed data must be weighed against constraints on current and possible future use and the interest in free exchange of information. In some cases, the coordination, negotiation, and administration costs associated with licensing are higher than those of other procurement methods. Federal agencies almost always distribute geographic data at or below marginal cost of distribution. Since the s, however, many state and local governments have experimented with distribution of data using licenses to generate revenue from their data.

The use of licenses to provide data to users may, however, be useful to enforce proper attribution, minimize liability, enhance data security, and formalize collaboration. In addition to utilizing outright purchases of data, agencies have experimented with a range of licenses to acquire data to perform their missions. Over time, some agencies have learned to negotiate new types of licenses that potentially offer better value to both the agency and commercial data suppliers.

Commercial data vendors have mixed attitudes toward licensing. In general, providers whose business models depend on adding value to data gathered from local, state, and federal agencies tend to oppose government data acquisition through licensing. Providers whose primary business models involve selling imagery or low-value-added geographic products to government generally welcome the prospect of licensing data to the government.

Academic users and producers are among the strongest advocates for the free flow of government geographic data as well as the free flow of any other publicly funded data and information of use to the scientific community. Nonetheless, the interests of students, teachers, researchers, libraries, and university administrators in gaining access to geographic data are not necessarily the same.

For example, students and teachers may need legal and convenient access to data to accomplish class demonstrations, laboratory exercises, and class projects, but may care little about the right to openly publish datasets or derivative products.

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Researchers, on the other hand, need the legal and practical ability to access, use, and extend the datasets and work products of others, including the right to publish derivative works. Restrictions on dissemination of data obtained by government from the commercial sector can impose large costs if these data are important inputs to research and development by businesses or the academic community. Nonetheless, licenses continue to evolve rapidly and are likely to improve over time. Suggestions from the commercial sector for promoting licenses include better contract design, validating licensed data to increase user confidence, developing standard form licenses, and simplifying negotiations.

Furthermore, agencies must weigh the perspectives of many different stakeholders to find licenses that best fit their missions and mandates; legal, economic, and public interest considerations; and budgetary realities.

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Depending on the circumstances, the advantages of licensing may outweigh social and economic drawbacks of acquiring geographic data with some level of use restriction. Legal Considerations11 Licensing of geographic data and works has come of age because of the limited protection afforded by copyright and other intellectual property doctrines in the digital environment. Providers also have turned to technological means to control access and copying, measures that are reinforced by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for works that have at least some copyright protection.

Moreover, courts have upheld contracts or licenses that limit the uses that a licensee can make of data, or that prohibit further distribution. Some federal laws and policies embody a strong preference for making data available to the public. Additionally, government accountability may require further public access, particularly in light of changes to the law regarding data access and data quality.

A, the Federal Acquisition Regulations, and the Freedom of Information Act FOIA recognize the possibility that some government information will be subject to proprietary restrictions and cannot be disseminated or made public. Economic Considerations12 Society makes data investment decisions through two very different institutions: governments and markets. Deciding which sector should acquire and distribute a particular product has profound implications for economic efficiency.

For goods such as data, markets are a good solution where the initial decision to invest in a particular product is controversial or uncertain. Conversely, government procurement is most useful when uncertainty about whether to invest is small, so that distributional efficiency becomes the dominant concern.

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Beyond these generalizations, additional considerations may apply to particular cases. The challenge is to make these choices with an eye toward economic efficiency. License design can be an important tool for setting this balance. In general, licenses for data obtained from the private sector that contain modest use and redistribution rights promote markets by allowing the original suppliers to pursue additional sales.

Conversely, the agency may think that certain geographic data products have proven their worth, but that high prices are preventing many people from using them. In this case, the agency may wish to make the data it acquires widely available by acquiring them through licenses that give the agency broad redistribution rights. In return, efficiency in distribution is more likely to be achieved. Traditional licensing models are not the only—or, in some cases, the best—ways to promote economic efficiency. In the limit, the agency may wish to purchase the data outright.

This can be done in a variety of ways, including private—public partnerships, licenses that obligate the agency to pay for large volumes of data, and cooperative research and development agreements. From the agency perspective, such transactions offer a good mix of efficiency in both production and distribution. Efficiency in production is achieved because the project must still realize significant private-sector sales to be profitable.

Alternatively, government might bear the entire cost of data production and acquire unlimited rights in order to promote efficiency in distribution. The Public Interest14 Public discourse, equality, and innovation are benefits that are not easily assessed but accrue for society as a whole. These benefits have been well served by public domain15 data, which have been the norm under a legal regime in which geographic data, once published, were free for anyone to use.

Such data also serve government accountability and transparency, although some license restrictions also may support these public interests in some cases. National security, law enforcement, and privacy issues present a common challenge to policy makers considering geographic data access issues: how to weigh potentially harmful or intrusive uses against legitimate uses. Blanket restrictions and classification on national security or law enforcement grounds are inadvisable except in unambiguous cases.

Furthermore, the potential benefits of classified data beyond the national security arena make timely declassification important. When classification is deemed appropriate, licenses can be used to limit access to specified users. See Chapter 1, Section 1. Recommendation 1: Before entering into data acquisition negotiations, agencies should confirm the extent of data redistribution required by their mandates and missions, government information policies, needs across government, and the public interest.

For example, in some cases the public may only need access to views derived from satellite data, rather than the original satellite data. The important principle is that access to information cannot be so limited, its distribution so difficult, or its content so closely held by government that outcomes of political debates are determined by unequal access to data.

Recommendation 3: When geographic data are to be used to design or administer regulatory schemes or formulate policy, affect the rights and obligations of citizens, or have likely value for the broader society as indicated by a legislative or regulatory mandate, the agency should Federal Geographic Data Committee, , Data Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata, available at.

However, an agency may not be able to support its decisions in court or elsewhere if the public or a court cannot scrutinize the evidence on which it relied. The importance of particular terms usually depends on context. That said, agencies usually need to weigh such terms as price, dissemination restrictions, enforcement, available uplift rights,21 and liability. Recommendation 4: Agencies should agree to license restrictions only when doing so is consistent with their mandates, missions, and the user groups they serve.

This usually requires repeated, direct discussions with affected parties. Agencies also are trustees for the taxpayers they serve. Recommendation 5: Agencies that acquire data for redistribution should take affirmative steps to learn the needs and preferences of groups that are the intended beneficiaries of the data as defined by the mandates and missions of the agency. Uplift rights in a license allow future purchases by specified parties under specified terms and conditions without the need to negotiate a new license.

Some state and local government agencies may choose or are legally required to set fees above marginal cost.

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In this case, agencies could limit the impact of such a decision by adopting the following strategies: 1 adopt price discrimination to mitigate the economic inefficiencies associated with user fees, 2 charge the lowest price consistent with covering their variable costs if the goal is to finance ongoing operations while still providing affordable public access , and 3 present minimally restrictive contracts that offer a broad menu of licensing options.

Even when cost recovery is not a goal, agencies sometimes may use licenses to pursue other, nonfinancial policy goals e. When circumstances permit, agencies may want to demand fewer rights in exchange for lower prices. Tertiary users are any users further downstream who do not directly acquire the data from government but gain access through others who pass it on with or without major changes. In some instances the cost of filling a user request requires additional preparation for the specific request, and the cost of that preparation along with the cost of duplication and delivery are included within the marginal cost.

Given the expansion of licensing of geographic data in the marketplace, agencies cannot help becoming more sophisticated consumers when licensing provides the best value or is the only available means of acquiring geographic data. The committee learned of many positive examples of agency negotiation. However, some agencies seemed to believe that they could not negotiate from a position of strength or found negotiations burdensome.

Not coincidentally, these same agencies tended to have the most disappointing licensing experiences. Recommendation 6: Agencies should dedicate resources to training and knowledge-sharing among agencies in order to extract maximum public benefit from licensing. In addition, vignettes between the chapters of this report present visions for the effects of license and nonlicense approaches. With each vignette, the vision builds in complexity to illustrate a possible future that accommodates the broadest range of stakeholders in geographic data and services.

Chapter 9 lays out specific strategies and institutions that could help the geographic data community reach this goal through positive effects on geographic data uses and in directing technology developments.

Publishing open data

At a minimum, it should be feasible to standardize provisions covering liability, indemnity, attribution, jurisdiction, and choice of law. Standard language and eventually standard form licenses are key to advancing many of the ideas in this report. Likely benefits include reduced negotiation costs, reduced uncertainty, improved market efficiency, and greater ability to automate transactions.

Recommendation 7: Agencies, trade associations, and public interest groups should exercise leadership in promoting standard clauses and form licenses throughout the geographic data community. Alternatively, agencies can purchase uplift rights when they acquire licensed data that are likely to be reused elsewhere in government. Recommendation 8: Agencies should continue to keep abreast of data brokerage and automated purchasing system developments that might help them coordinate data acquisitions from competing vendors.

See Chapter 8, Section 8. Business-to-government purchasing systems enable automated purchasing of standardized commercial products by government. The National Commons The overarching goal of the geographic information commons is to create a broad and continually growing set of freely usable i. Not all local governments, private citizens, or private companies will want to make any or all of their geographic datasets or products available in the public domain or in a commons licensing environment.

One vendor told the committee that he would cut prices by three-fourths in a market that let him reach agency buyers testimony from David DeLorme. Recommendation 9: The geographic data community should consider a National Commons in Geographic Information where individuals can post and acquire commons-licensed geographic data. The proposed facility would make it easier for geographic data creators including local to federal agencies to document, license, and deliver their datasets to a common shared pool, and also would help the broader community to find, acquire, and use such data.

Participation would be voluntary. A National Marketplace in Geographic Information would provide an online environment where any seller or licensor, no matter how small, could efficiently post its offerings in a searchable form using a menu of standard licenses and metadata reporting. Would-be purchasers could search through thousands of offerings to find the geographic data that meet their technical and license condition needs.

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