Intellectual Property and the Licensing of Canadian Government Geospatial Data: An Examination of Geoconnections’ Recommendations for Best Practices and Template Licences
The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe Canadien, Forthcoming
11 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2010 Last revised: 25 May 2014
Date Written: 2010
In Canada, Crown copyright permits the government to assert control over its works. These Crown rights have often been justified on the basis that the government must assert intellectual property rights so as to be better able to control the accuracy, integrity, and quality of any information that reaches the public through Crown works. With a view to facilitating the dissemination of government geographic data, GeoConnections (http://www.geoconnections.org), an organization led by Natural Resources Canada, has developed a best practices guide, The Dissemination of Government Geographic Data in Canada: Guide to Best Practices, which includes a series of template licence agreements to assist all federal government agencies and departments in disseminating geographic data and to provide model terms to govern the access to such data online. As the Best Practices Guide makes clear, its templates seek to provide a uniform approach for geographic data across federal departments and agencies, and their application extends beyond data generated by Natural Resources Canada. In this article, the authors examine GeoConnections’ template agreements for the licensing of government geographic data. While the authors commend the move toward simplified uniform licensing, they argue that not only is the basis and scope of claims to intellectual property rights uncertain, the objectives of quality control, data integrity, and accuracy do not appear to motivate the licence terms. The uncertainty as to the legal basis for the intellectual property claims in the licence is significant, as licences of this kind may give support to otherwise weak downstream claims by third parties to copyright in data products generated through the use of geographic data provided by the Crown. The scope of intellectual property rights in data is likely to continue to bedevil licensors and licensees of compilations of raw data, particularly ‘whole of universe’ data sets, in jurisdictions like Canada where there is no express database protection regime. In spite of a fairly weak intellectual property law foundation, GeoConnections proposes an Agreement that asserts a confident claim to rights in the underlying data. The Agreement is a missed opportunity for government licensors to address quality concerns. These concerns might be satisfied, at least in part, by a requirement to maintain and update as necessary, and in accordance with accepted standards, any metadata that accompanies the data.
Keywords: Copyright, Licensing, Intellectual Property, Geospatial Data, Government Data, Crown Copyright, GeoConnections
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation