[okfn-discuss] Re: [geo-discuss] copyright not applicable to geodata?

Rufus Pollock rufus.pollock at okfn.org
Mon Apr 2 08:39:08 UTC 2007

Jo Walsh wrote:
> dear all,
> I tried to sum up the highlights of the discussion that's been
> hammering the osgeo/geodata and openstreetmap/legal-talk lists over
> the last few days. Word is that Science Commons say "copyright based
> licenses don't apply to geographic information (as fact collection)"
> so there's no point applying a CC- or GPL- derivative license to it.

That is simply not correct in many jurisdictions outside of the US where 
there is copyright for 'data' (or, as in the EU, a similar sui generis 
right). For this very reason the Dutch CC team explicitly wrote database 
rights into their CC license (in no small part because one of the world 
experts on database rights, Bernt Hugenholtz, heads the centre where 
CC-Netherlands is based).

There was actually some recent discussion of this on this list see in 
particular this post (and the links therein):


I also know that John Willbanks (of Science Commons) has particularly 
strong views on these issues -- I had a lengthy exchange on this issue 
with him back around december time on the SPARC open-data list:


> http://blog.okfn.org/2007/04/01/copyright-not-applicable-to-geodata/
> As usual where data licensing is concerned I Am Frustrated, OSGeo has
> a mandate to offer sane and helpful advice to those wishing to open
> license geographic data, there is a chance to set a precedent with a
> couple of different public bodies but advice such as the above seems
> like a setback from the rough consensus there was a couple of years ago. 

As I said above this advice is plain wrong in many jurisdictions outside 
of the US (even in the US it is not clear how far the Feist exclusion 
extends). Also does it matter what CC think about this? As Paula LeDieu 
said at OK 1.0: just draft your own (see e.g. the efforts of Talis whose 
licensed is aimed at bibliographic community: 
http://www.talis.com/tdn/tcl). Since you have got the rights (at least 
outside of the US) you are free to do what you want (I have made several 
noises to CC-EW about incorporating database rights explicitly into the 
license but as yet I don't think anything has happened on this point).

> I quite like the idea of a click-use contract if it is machine-negotiable, 
> cf the project that John Sheridan has going with OPSI right now.
> But this all sounds novel, I want to be able to point at solid prior art.

The technological implementation (e.g. click-use) is quite separate from 
whether the license is valid -- i.e. is enforceable. The general point 
is that in some jurisdictions there are no existing IP rights in the 
data so there is nothing to license and hence the license, and 
specifically thinks like the share-alike provisions, aren't enforceable. 
  This is very clearly not the case in the EU since we have DB rights 
and even in many other jurisdictions there is simply copyright in the data.

Thus the simple message to the openstreetmap and other list should be: 
stop worrying and keep licensing.


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