Law and the GeoWeb

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Intellectual Property Issues and Geographic Data in the Internet Era

Welcome to Law and the GeoWeb, a workshop on intellectual property (IP) issues and geographic data in the internet era. The workshop organized jointly by Creative Commons and United States Geological Survey, will be colocated with the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, and will be held on Monday, April 11, 2011 in Seattle, Washington from 1 PM to 5 PM.


The United States Copyright Law protects original creative content for the benefit of the author or other rights holder. This raises many issues in today’s digital age because information is so easily created, shared, and copied. The law that protects creative content does not protect facts, that is, data that are discovered rather than invented. A complicating factor is that geographic data sets are typically made of discrete elements that may have been gathered over time and space by various agencies and individuals. While licensing datasets has become commonplace, it has created more confusion than solved. When different datasets or even different elements within a single dataset have different provenances, mixing them creates new datasets with further licensing conditions that are typically more restrictive.

With the advent of cheap computing and networking power available to everyone, the traditional roles of data producer and consumer are being turned on their heads. Collecting and managing large geographic datasets was formerly the domain of government agencies but today an increasing number of geographic datasets are being created, and shared by users outside government agencies. These datasets come with different expectations for reuse. This hodgepodge of licensing and contractual obligations creates a problem for data interoperability. For example, public agencies may be unable to mix licensed data with official government data due to stricter licensing terms for the resultant dataset. Thus, public agencies may be unable to capitalize on and benefit from user-generated content.

This workshop will focus on intellectual property issues with geographic data, exploring situations when users and creators who range from individuals to local, state, and federal agencies, private companies and non-profits create, share, and reuse geographic information from different sources in their projects.


We have a lineup of distinguished speakers representing most major constituencies in the geographic data space — law/licenses, federal government, state governments, local governments, grassroots and citizen mapping, academia/research and policy, and private sector, we have covered it all.

The format of the workshop is designed to inform, provoke and encourage discussion. There will be three blocks of 10-15 minutes long presentations by two to three speakers in each block. Each block of presentation will be followed by a 30 minutes long discussion.


The format of the workshop is designed to inform, provoke and encourage discussion. We will start with getting the non-governmental and policy perspective, and work our way via the corporate perspective to the concerns and viewpoints of state and federal governments. The tentative actual agenda is below (click on the names to open up PDF of presentations in a new window). Additionally, download a video recording of the entire workshop, thanks to Microsoft Research.

Presenter, affiliationStart timeEnd time
intro and ack1:00 PM1:05 PM
Steve Coast, OpenStreetMap1:05 PM1:25 PM
Tim Vollmer, Creative Commons1:25 PM1:45 PM
discussion1:45 PM2:10 PM
Ed Parsons, Google2:10 PM2:30 PM
Paul Uhlir, National Research Council2:30 PM2:50 PM
discussion2:50 PM3:15 PM
break3:15 PM3:25 PM
Greg Babinski, King County, WA3:25 PM3:45 PM
Cy Smith, NSGIC3:45 PM4:05 PM
Tim Trainor, US Census Bureau4:05 PM4:25 PM
discussion4:25 PM4:55 PM
wrap-up and thanks4:55 PM5:00 PM
Presenter, affiliationStart timeEnd time


Greg Babinski, King County, State of Washington Greg is the Finance & Marketing Manager for the King County GIS Center in Seattle, where he has worked since 1998. Previously he worked for nine years as GIS Mapping Supervisor for the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland. Babinski is the President-Elect of URISA – the Association for GIS Professionals.

Steve Coast, Founder, OpenStreetMap Steve founded OpenStreetMap (OSM) a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world in 2004. He later founded CloudMade, a company that produces geographic products and services using exclusivly Creative Commons-licensed OpenStreetMap data. In November 2010 Steve accepted a position as Principal Architect at Microsoft's Bing Mobile.

Kari Craun, Director, National Geospatial Technical Operations Center, USGS Kari is the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, National Geospatial Technical Operations Center (NGTOC). NGTOC performs a wide range of functions in support of maintaining a seamless, current, nationally consistent coverage of base geospatial data for the US. Prior to her current position, she was Chief of the USGS Central Region Partnership Office responsible for partnerships with other federal, state, and local governments, as well as with the private and academic sectors, for furthering the development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure. She had previously worked in other positions with the USGS in both Rolla, Missouri, as Chief of the Mid-Continent Mapping Center, and in Reston, Virgina.

Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist, Google Ed's task is to evangelize Google's mission to organise the world’s information using geography, and tools including Google Earth, Google Maps and Google Maps for Mobile. In his role he also maintains links with Universities, Research and Standards Organisations which are involved in the development of Geospatial Technology. Ed was the first Chief Technology Officer in the 200-year-old history of Ordnance Survey, and was instrumental in moving the focus of the organisation from mapping to Geographical Information.

Cy Smith, National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) Cy joined the State of Oregon in 2000. He’s responsible for statewide coordination of all geographic information activities in state agencies, academic institutions, and regional and local governments. Cy's positions prior to Oregon include GIS Manager for the City of Olathe, Kansas, the Kansas State GIS Coordinator, and a GIS consultant for PlanGraphics, Inc. of Frankfort, KY. His technical background is in land ownership mapping. He is a Past-President of NSGIC, President of URISA, and Past-Chair and current Secretary of the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations.

Timothy Trainor, Chief, Geography Division, US Census Bureau As the Census Bureau’s chief geographer, Tim is responsible for directing all aspects of division work related to geographic and cartographic development and implementation activities necessary to support bureau data collection, processing, tabulation, and dissemination programs for the U.S. Tim began his federal government career as a cartographer with the Defense Mapping Agency (now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency), and joined the bureau's Geography Division in 1980. He's been actively involved in the bureau's cartographic operations and its TIGER system (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing), an automated geographic database.

Paul Uhlir, Director, Board on Research Data and Information, National Research Council Paul’s area of emphasis is on issues at the interface of science, technology, and law, with primary focus on digital data and information policy and management. He also directs the U.S. Committee on Data for Science and Technology, and the InterAcademy Panel’s Program on Digital Knowledge Resources and Infrastructure in Developing Countries. Paul has been the director of the Office on International S&T Information Programs at the National Academies, the Associate Executive Director of the Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications; and a senior staff officer for the Academies’ Space Studies Board, where he directed projects about solar system exploration and environmental remote sensing programs for NASA.

Timothy Vollmer, Policy Coordinator, Creative Commons Timothy has worked as a policy fellow, business development assistant, and intern for Creative Commons. Prior to rejoining CC, Timothy was Assistant Director to the Program on Public Access to Information for the American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy in Washington, D.C. Timothy graduated from of the University of Michigan School of Information, where he was also a research investigator for the Open.Michigan Open Educational Resource initiative, and helped develop a student-centric OCW publishing pilot there.


The workshop is jointly organized by Creative Commons and United States Geological Survey. We gratefully acknowledge the invitation from the Association of American Geographers to organize this event, the voluntary attendance of our distinguished speakers, offer of the International Journal of Spatial Data Infrastructure Research to publish a special issue on the workshop, and logistics support from Microsoft Research.

Creative Commons (CC) is a nonprofit corporation that makes it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright. CC provides free licenses and legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof. Learn more.

Puneet Kishor is a Senior Science Fellow with Creative Commons evangelizing open access to geospatial data, science and technology.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is the nation’s largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency. It collects, monitors, analyzes, and provides scientific understanding about natural resource conditions, issues, and problems. It provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, natural hazards, natural resources, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information. Learn more.

Barbara Poore is a Research Geographer with the USGS Coastal and Marine Science Center in St. Petersburg. Her interests lie in volunteered geographic information, user-centered design, and use of GeoWeb for disaster recovery.

Update: Thanks to Microsoft Research, video recording of the entire workshop is now available.