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Free versus fee

In The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data we devoted one chapter to a discussion of the Free versus Fee debate: Should spatial data be made available for free or should individuals, companies and government organisations charge for their data? In a recently published article Sell your data to save the economy and your future the author Jaron Lanier argues that a ‘monetised information economy‘, where information is a commodity that is traded to the advantage of both the information provider and the information collector, is best way forward.

Lanier argues that although the current movement for making data available for free has become well established, with many arguing that it has the potential for democratising the digital economy through access to open software, open spatial data, open education resources and the like, insisting that data is available for free will ultimately mean a small digital elite will thrive at the expense of the majority. Data, and the information products derived from them, are the new currency in the digital age and those who don’t have the opportunity to take advantage of this source of re-enumeration will lose out. Large IT companies with the best computing facilities, who collect and re-use our information, will be the winners with their ‘big data‘ crunching computers ‘... guarded like oilfields‘.

In one vision of an alternative information economy, people would be paid when data they made available via a network were accessed by someone else. Could selling the data that are collected by us, and about us, be a viable option and would it give us more control over how the data are used? Or is the open approach to data access and sharing the best way forward?

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