Posts Tagged ‘Public domain’ A Global Catalogue of Public Domain Data Portals

May 17, 2016 1 comment

The site, hosted by the Open Knowledge International organisation in conjunction with the LOD2 project, provides a comprehensive repository of over 500 open data portals. The registered portals, published by local, regional and national governments, international organisations and a number of Non Government Organisations (NGOs), provide access to a variety of spatial data sources including administrative boundaries, land use, economic activity and environmental indicators.


All data sets referenced by the DataPortals catalogue, including those that form part of a database collection, are published under the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication & Licence. The data sets are available to download in a variety of formats including .xls, JSON/GEOJSON and shapefile.



Georeferencer Project: Crowdsourcing location data for historic maps

June 22, 2015 1 comment

In 2011 the British Library set up the Georeferencer project to crowdsource the georeferencing of its collections of scanned historic maps. By adding georeference (coordinate) data to the old maps, they can be viewed alongside modern maps via the Old Maps Online data portal and the catalog of georeferenced maps.

Georeferencer Project

Georeferencer Project

Using illustrations extracted from digital books and public domain images posted on Flickr, many of the maps were identified and geo-tagged by a team of volunteers as part of a Maps Tag-a-thon event that ran from Nov 2014 to January this year. Among the collections of maps released so far are the Ordnance Surveyors’ Drawings (one inch to a mile maps for England and Wales 1780 – 1840) and the Amercian Civil War collection.

American Civil War Maps

American Civil War Maps

To date, over 8000 maps have been successfully georeferenced and quality checked by a panel of reviewers.


Licensing and the public domain

April 21, 2014 1 comment

A central theme in the GIS Guide to Public Domain Data is data licensing; the emergence of licensing frameworks for spatial data, the types of licenses that are available for data producers and users, and what is means to place data in the public domain. Despite much attention there is as yet no universally accepted definition of the term ‘public domain’. A number of organisations have posted their own interpretations, including:

US Copyright Office: The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the ‘public domain’ if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.

UK’s Intellectual Property Office: The body of works not or no longer protected by Intellectual Property rights which are available for the public to use without seeking permission or paying royalties.

Creative CommonsWhen a work is in the public domain, it is free for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction under copyright law. Public domain is the purest form of open/free, since no one owns or controls the material in any way.

Common to all these definitions are the freedom from royalty payments and the absence of intellectual property rights and copyright restrictions on the use and reuse of the data. During the recent State of the Map US conference in Washington DC, some of the lingering issues regarding data licensing for spatial data were raised again. In his presentation on OpenStreetMap (OSM) Alex Barth of Mapbox discussed some of the current licensing challenges facing the current and future use of OSM data.

OSM data is open data licensed under the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL), and the cartography in the map tiles and the documentation are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license (CC BY-SA). Common to both licensing frameworks is the share-alike clause that means any OSM data that is updated and improved, or third party data remixed with OSM data, must be shared under the same licensing terms.

For some organisations integrating OSM data with their own private data, or organisations who are mandated to make their data available in the public domain (for example the US Geological Survey), wider use of this data resource is not an option and the benefits of crowd-sourced, free and open datasets like OSM will never be fully realised. For many observers, the only sensible long-term option is dropping the share-alike clause from the OSM licensing arrangements. For others, designation as a public domain data set is the solution. It remains to be seen which licensing path the OpenStreetMap community will choose.


UN: Future trends in geospatial information management

September 29, 2013 1 comment

A new document from the UN describes a 5- to 10-year vision in geospatial information management.  Published by the UK Ordnance Survey at the request of the Secretariat for the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management, the lead authors are John Carpenter and Jevon Snell from the Ordnance Survey. The document was  commissioned in October 2011 and the first edition was just recently published.

UN:  Future trends in geospatial information management

UN: Future trends in geospatial information management document.

The document is worth examining for all those who are in the field of geospatial technology.  The language of the document is thankfully clear and concise, and quite thoughtful, something often lacking in documents such as this.  I especially like sentences such as these, “A number of important technology‑driven trends are likely to have a major impact in the coming years, creating previously-unimaginable amounts of location‑referenced information and questioning our very understanding of what constitutes geospatial information.

The authors have done an excellent job in recognizing the diversity of government, nonprofit, and private sector needs regarding geospatial information.  The authors also strike a nice tone by encouraging partnerships and progress so that everyday decisions can be enhanced with a greater volume and a better quality of data as we move forward.  Yet, they are realists and realize that this won’t happen overnight. Throughout, the bulleted paragraphs make the entire document accessible and easy to read and understand.

Chapters include key trends (cloud computing, open source, open standards), legal and policy (privacy, liability, funding), skill important in the future (education, extracting value, working with data), the role of private and non-governmental sectors, and the future role of governments.  Many of these topics are those that are core to the themes of the GIS Guide to Public Domain Data book, and thus the Public Domain Data book provides a good introduction to and background for the UN document for use on the job or in instruction.

Europeana’s Public Domain Charter

Europeana, Europe’s digital library and archive, provides an Internet portal for European cultural heritage, facilitating access to a diverse range of cultural objects, historical maps and archive collections maintained in galleries, libraries and museums across Europe. In addition to the collections and content maintained by the host organisations, Europeana also uses a number of additional open data sources to augment some of the content available via the portal, including GeoNames, the geographical database of place names.

The library has published a Public Domain Charter, setting out the principles for a ‘healthy Public Domain‘, explaining what the Public Domain is and why it it important. According to Europeana, works in the Public Domain are ‘the material  from which society derives knowledge and fashions new cultural works. Having a healthy and thriving Public Domain is essential to the social and economic well-being of society.‘ The Europeana website also discusses the importance of Public Domain in the digital age, which has resulted in ‘massive digitisation efforts‘ producing digital collections on a scale previously unimaginable and introduced new funding challenges for the organisations that develop and maintain those collections. Given the current fiscal conditions facing many European countries, Europeana acknowledges the pressure many organisations may be under to generate income from licensing their content to help offset the costs of producing these new digital resources. However, by publishing the Public Domain Charter, Europeana hopes it will send out a strong signal to content providers and policy makers as to the importance of maintaining works in the Public Domain.

Going public with government data

Recent events in Colorado have once again highlighted just how important it is to have access to current and accurate spatial data when faced with extreme events such as wildfires.

As Aliya Sterstein describes in a post for the Nextgov newsletter, once a federal disaster has been declared, the US government can make certain datasets available that wouldn’t otherwise be in the public domain. When analysed with up-to-date mapping, live weather reports and other bulletins, this powerful combination of public and private data has proven invaluable in helping to predict the likely spread of the fires and ensuring resources are available as soon as possible. It also means less risk for emergency workers on site.
Information like this, such as the location of water pumps and power plants, is generally only available in exceptional circumstances, on a need-to-know basis. Aside from federal disasters, are there any other situations when such data are made available? Should this information be readily accessible unless there is a compelling need-to-not-know?
Aftermath of High Park wildfire, Colorado, 2012

Aftermath of High Park wildfire, Colorado, 2012