Guide to Public Geodata Licensing

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This is an outline draft of what is intended to be a guide to open geodata licensing options and current precedents, written to help public administrations choose or design an open license for their data.

It is inspired by the Open Knowledge Foundation's Guide to Open Data Licensing.


  • Informative, not normative
  • Collective and growing guidelines

Open License Concept

The concept of "open licensing" under discussion originates in Free Software. A person or organisation makes a work available under a copyright license with certain restraints which do not restrict access to, reuse of or redistribution of the work. There are many different licenses and license styles to choose from. For many it is enough to say a work of software is open if it uses a license that is described by the OSI Open Source Definition

The Open Definition offers the same service for open data licenses. The aim is to make it clear what the aims are in "open licensing" a work, as well as what the results can be.

Data Licensing Styles

Public Domain

The meaning of "public domain" varies according to regions. It is possible to dedicate a work to the public domain during a time at which one could assert copyright or other rights in it. Otherwise, when copyright expires on a work (after a time which may vary for class of work as well as jurisdiction), it falls into the public domain. In the US, data made openly available from entities such as NASA and the DOD, or by ESA in Europe, may be perceived to be in the "public domain" because it is available with no formal constraints.


  • copyright terms vary a lot in jurisdictions
  • GPL copyright over code
  • best known copyright-based license for data is the "Creative Commons" licensing scheme.
  • CC variants worldwide specific concerns

ShareAlike constraints

A "ShareAlike" clause in an open license states in essence that if a work is altered or built upon then the modifications must be shared under the same terms as the original data set.

The re-user of the data is "adding value", then the source of that value is returned to the public pool.

On the pro hand, ShareAlike may prove an advantage to a data supplier who is publically funded or not-for-profit. Commercial operators may use open data as the basis for an enhanced service, and improvements in the raw data go back to the public pool.

On the con hand, ShareAlike may be perceived as an impediment to use of the data set at all by commercial providers, who still wish to base a business model on keeping fixes and improvements secret. There is uncertainty about the extent to which re-use of even a small part of, or functional byproduct of, a data set, renders another product a "derived work".

Attribution constraints

An Attribution clause in an open license indicates that where the work is redistributed with or without modifications, an attribution to the original authors of the work is preserved.

This can be seen as problematic if there are many authors and attribution for all of them must be preserved even if only a small amount of the work is being re-used.

  • collective work / delegating to a holding organisation
  • contributor license agreements

Non-Commercial constraints

(each summarised with pros and cons, references at the end)

Database Rights

Open Data by Country


  • Manitoba Land Inititative - Custom License: Despite the data is Crown Copyright, all use, including commercial use is free of cost. A clause prohibits the sale of data without "added value" modification.





New Zealand

Government GeoData in New Zealand is available under various licences depending on the Government Department responsible for it's capture and/or management.

The main Ministry, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) provides data at low commercial rates, and under a licence which supports free redistribution, provided the original Crown Copyright is acknowledged, and a disclaimer/indemnity for LINZ regarding any errors, etc relating to the data or its use. Most organisations, such as utilities & local government either buy the data from LINZ, or from a third party who adds some value in the process. Datasets covered under this licence include topological, cadastral & road centreline data. The list price for the topo dataset from LINZ is $1500NZ. The LINZ topo licence is available at: LINZ licence pdf

The Ministry for Statistics is responsible for a wide array of demographic, electoral, census & financial data.

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible for the national land cover database, but historically contracted this to a commercial company, who treat the data as a commercial product & charge & licence these data accordingly.

There are numerous other datasets, such as aquatic biodiversity data, which are managed by the Ministry for Fisheries. Some of this can be viewed on government websites, but to date there is no data being made available (

Much other data is obtained & held by Crown Research Institutes (CRI's). These are essentially commercial businesses owned by the Government, and under the enabling legislation, are required to return a profit on assets, including data. Despite this, there are initiatives from some CRI's to make some datasets freely available.




  • EDINA paper in particular
  • highlights of OSM-legal-talk
  • a lot of other mailing list posts, blog entries, etc

On the Public Domain

On Noncommercial Restrictions

On ShareAlike Restrictions

  • ShareAlike considered harmful Richard Fairhurst of English Waterways and the OpenStreetmap Foundation on Why the 'derivative work' provision of GPL/ShareAlike licences makes them unsuitable for geodata and mapping works.

On Attribution Restrictions

See Also