[Freegis-list] protection vs. sharing

Jo Walsh jo at frot.org
Tue Mar 14 00:46:08 CET 2006

I managed to miss this mail from Ann at 52North due to HTML mail formatting issues  and lose the thread details, but i wanted to offer a response to it.

> Our software does in fact consume and produce data, but this
> is not restricted to state-collected geospatial data...
> ... It is up to the user of our software to do what
> he wants to do with our software according to the GPL rights. 
> Of course it is legitimate and understandable to demand that public
> data be free of charge. But we are not only dealing with public data
> in Europe, there is a great deal of data produced by companies and even
> private persons. 

Agreed, there is a deep ecology of geodata of which publically-funded
information is only a part (though a part which would be much more
whole, if public information was more openly available on the
geospatial web). As INSPIRE is only legislating over what rights the
public will have to discover and access geodata, that is the present
narrow focus of publicgeodata.org . We can look at geodata collection
and distribution holistically, as part of a mixed social economy; but 
the INSPIRE decision making track is not doing that yet. 

> As far as INSPIRE is concerned, criticism is legitimate of course.
> However, there is – at least in our opinion – a strong
> need to establish a Trans-European/Europe-wide standardized network for
> environmental data. 

I would not attempt to deny this, but i would deny that INSPIRE, in
its current form, is going to provide it. Even the European Commission is
unhappy with the new emphasis on IP rights restricting access to geodata:

[[ the common position could have the effect of reducing rather than
increasing the availability of spatial data. ... The text of the
common position leaves too much scope for data providers to refuse to
give public access to their data and share it with other authorities.
]] http://www.ec-gis.org/inspire/proposal/communication_inspire.pdf

provides a longer breakdown of the new clauses restricting access and
distribution, inserting several IP related get-out clauses that will
exempt data holders even from having to divulge the existence of their
data or submit metadata to search services, through INSPIRE.

I have heard that a lot of brilliant supporting work has been done on
building a framework for INSPIRE. The "implementing rules" that will
define actual standards and protocols that should be used to describe
spatial and environmental data, are not described in the legislation,
nor open to a public process of participation. There is an incredible
body of expertise, particularly here and on the OpenSDI list, in the
pragmatics of geodata description, management and maintenance. To make
best use of that expertise, this process needs to be held in the open. 

There is already a "public access to environmental information"
directive (2003/04/EC) which is non-technical, non-framework oriented. 
But the shell of INSPIRE is nontechnical, too. The framework for
data-sharing that will be legislated into place won't be, as we might
think, "implement WMS and WFS interfaces and OGC standards", but will be more like,
"annotate your data with Dublin Core and ISO 19915". As the guarantee
of free public viewing of data was removed from INSPIRE by the Council,
and there is no obligation to provide *access to metadata* about data in 
which the state agency has a commercial interest, this isn't going to
promote any sharing or interoperability of data.

http://egip.jrc.it/200602/1561.html is a recent response i wrote setting out
the reasons for falling back to calling for a rejection of INSPIRE at
this point.

There is a lot more that can be done to help, without calling for
outright rejection of the whole Directive; see
http://publicgeodata.org/Arguments as well as the Analysis link above,
and http://publicgeodata.org/Contact_ENVI_Committee_Members to talk to
them about the negative impact of the IP and rights clauses. 
> There is an increasing demand for higher quality
> data, i.e. with greater precision/accuracy and up-to-date data. Update
> and quality management are important factors for data maintenance, but
> also create considerable operating expenses. In the days of
> governmental cutbacks, land surveying offices and town councils are
> not being financed 100% anymore and are being forced to contemplate
> business management issues. They will need to be increasingly creative
> about acquiring funding for their data.

I typically see figures of 40%-50% of data sales by national mapping
agencies to other government funded services. Plus NMAs do receive a
necessary public subsidy for mapping of "uneconomic areas". The
concerns in INSPIRE have been centered on the the needs of the big 
national agencies, not of the many holders and potential contributors of 
geodata (particularly local level government) and a lot of
stakeholders are unhappy about that. When local government is racked
with data licensing costs, they start to slip into "cost-recovery"
mode too. 

This is a *huge* question going right into, fundamentally, how public works 
are funded and what constitutes a public good. Roads and street
furniture are generally considered a public good. There is an
incentive to maintain road networks at subsidy, because they allow other 
goods to be distributed more cheaply, more easily. They are the arteries 
in a physical distribution network which allows for the passage of
publically funded local services (rubbish collection, bus systems) as
much as commercial goods and passenger transport. And i would
class a geodata infrastructure in the same way as a road
infrastructure. It is a good to which access should not be prevented, 
which no use of prevents other use of. It is an infrastructure which
connects together other services and makes them more usable.  

An open geodata infrastructure would allow many small companies to enter 
the market for geodata updates and maintenance. It would have massive
indirect effects in job creation, in value creation which would be of
personal benefit to everyone working on more accessible, more
participatory open source GIS tools and standards. I see more
openstreetmap-nature projects appearing. If we could reach through to the
information collected on our behalf by government, how much code time
energy could be directed into building really useful tools?

> We see open source pragmatically and not merely as a question of
> belief. We do not perceive a conflict between free software and any
> kind of data. We search for pragmatic solutions - we build bridges.
> Nothing in the world is black or white, but rather grey nuances.

Speaking from myself, i find the "pragmatic position" hugely laudable.
In order to make better decisions, i want to consider all the options
i have available, as completely as possible. The INSPIRE process has
been predicated on a narrow view of "cost-recovery" and that dictates
the terms in which it talks, and by which we must react; but there is a
growing body of research work indicating that monopoly pricing of
public information is a decision that suppresses economic activity.

I think that open source, open standards and open data are co-dependent. 
This isn't stating that free software must be using free data; it's stating 
that use of free software, and open protocols, tends towards freer data, 
and with freer data, the incentive to use and promote freer software is better.

There are so many assumptions in government IT policy in general which 
are based on a proprietary stance, but this is starting to change.
US and Canadian government agencies at all levels have been big users and 
supporters of open source geospatial software; this has been the best and 
cheapest way to distribute data freely; this can be viewed as an attitude 
percolating through the whole cultural complex. One cannot just accept a 
situation in which one sees, "agency X is having its funding cut again this
year, because the value of the public service is produces is not
immediately visible or directly quantifiable", to "agency X should
start charging users more for access to its data". Decisions like
this, that are made without taking into account the nested complex of
cultural forces, can be really counterproductive for value creation: 

[[ The United States Geological Survey (USGS) in the early 1980s
attempted to move towards cost recovery by increasing prices for data
products including maps. As a result, demand dropped so precipitously
that the USGS was forced to quickly reduce prices to recapture the
previous market. After reducing the charges to previous levels, sales
took three years to return to their earlier level. ]]

There isn't one licensing or distribution model that fits all needs, but
there is a clear and wide set of choices, and many of them are just
not being considered in the debate that has framed INSPIRE. 
Richard Fairhurst wrote an interesting treatment recently of problems with 
a ShareAlike clause for smaller, ground-up, collaborative mapping projects. 
http://www.systemed.net/blog/entry060311122655.html (perhaps the whole
licensing conversation is better left out in the blogosphere ;) )

I seem to have misplaced my 'rant mode off' button, sorry about that. 


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