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Dr Mike J Smith
Kingston University

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Copyright or database right... Does it matter?

Tue, 13 Mar 2007

One of the follow-on outputs to the GRADE Project from my report on the Use Case Compendium of Derived Geospatial Data deals with the legal aspects relaing to geospatial respositories. In particular there was a need to look at the framework for designing a licensing strategy for the sharing and re-use of data submitted to a repository. This part of the project was led, and reported on, by Charlotte Waelde at the AHRC Research Centre for Studies in Intellectual Property and Technology Law, Edinburgh University. Whilst my compendium highlighted the problems relating to data re-use, particularly with respect to the Ordnance Survey (as this is where UK HE has the greatest experience), Charlotte has taken a step back and assessed the basis for accepting the terms and conditions upon which the data use are based upon. And the conclusion that she has come to:

geospatial data (generally) does not come under copyright, but rather database right. The former covers original, creative, pieces of work (and includes things like photos and maps), whilst the latter is designed to protect databases that have been collated. Her argument (and you need to read the complete document) is that products such as Mastermap are covered by database right only.

This has some important implications, but don't read this as a free-for-all grab at everyone's geospatial data; its not. I would like to highlight the following point that Charlotte makes in her report (and I quote):

A lawful user of the database (e.g. the researcher or teacher in an educational institution) may not be prevented from extracting and re-utilising an insubstantial part of the contents of a database for any purposes whatsoever.

This has the following implications:

  • 1. If you're a licensed user (e.g. Digimap user) you can use an insubstantial part of the database as you see fit (although Charlotte explains that the term "insubstantial" is still a little vague but possibly <50%)
  • 2. This includes re-distribution of that insubstantial part, creation and re-distribution of derivative data and publication of figures directly relating to the utilisation of the data or any derivatives.
  • 3. Any terms and conditions applied in relation to the original license are null and void for the insubstantial part
Of course does any of this really matter to anyone? Well on one level you could argue no. Those that are happy with the status quo, utilise geospatial data and publish within the "restrictions" are not affected in any way. There are those that find some of the current restrictions irritating and just want a "sensible" license. Finally there are those that want to get well on the way to "freeing our data."

Whatever our outlook is, these are important and highly relevant conclusions to draw and will effect us all in the geospatial community. Indeed Europe as a whole (as this relates to the European Database Directive) is going to have to take a deep breath and work out the next step. Not least, the HE communitys two biggest bug-bears (with the JISC-OS license at least) are addressed in that, theoretically:
  • 1. No copyright subsists in derivative products and these would be freely distributable (as long as they are not "substantial")
  • 2. For the same reason, academics would be more or less free to publish whatever diagrams they see fit


So really the big question is:

what happens next?

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