On Intellectual Property, Licensing and Publishing

By Adena Schutzberg

Respecting Intellectual Property
I recently spoke to some well-placed individuals in geospatial companies.During the course of the conversation one noted his company was looking to acquire some intellectual property.Good move, I thought.Only later, when looking over the company website, did I find several articles reprinted without the publisher's permission.It's interesting that a company would realize the importance of acquiring or licensing intellectual property, but not understand that reprinting material without permission was stealing.

Searching by License
On a related note, Yahoo introduced a new filter for searching a few weeks back.It ideally searches for material that's not under traditional copyright, but rather under Creative Commons, a "some rights reserved," license.Creative Commons offers several levels of license depending on how tightly a content creator chooses to hold the rights.For example, under one version material can be used for non-commercial efforts without asking, under another, it may not.I've tried a "CC search" a few times and confess it's not quite what I'd hoped.Still, the idea of Creative Commons licensing is still new to many content publishers and teasing out material under the license via an Internet search must be complex.

The idea that other licenses for content are available (just as a variety of software licenses are available) is valuable for the mainstream Internet user to know.It's also valuable information for those of us in the geospatial realm.How might a "some rights reserved license" work for geospatial data? How might it be woven into GeoData.gov? Wouldn't it be nice to search for data that's available to use in say, non-commercial applications? I have to believe Google is watching Yahoo's work and planning its own steps in this arena.I hope those assembling spatial data infrastructures are looking at alternatives to traditional copyright as well.

Are GIS data available under Creative Commons (CC)? How about a DEM from Puget Sound (2000)? The Libre Map Project uses a CC license (and hosts lots of DRGs and TIGER data).A few non-profits are using CC too, including ONEList (an environmental blog for the NorthWest) and EOGEO (an organization serving civil society organizations with geospatial technology).I also found some interesting work on Public Commons of GIScience at the University of Maine.

Open Access Journal
That brings me to an "alternative" model for publishing, this one for scientific research.The model most of us know, involves scholars doing research, submitting it for review and one day, having it published in a prestigious journal.The journal itself would take no money from the author, but might run advertising and might charge quite a lot to individuals and libraries for a subscription.

Enter the new model.In the geospatial arena, one might want to be published in the International Journal of Health Geographics.It follows the "new model" called Open Access.That includes "journals that use a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access." To be part of the Directory of Open Access Journals, among other things, the journal must provide "fulltext, open access scientific and scholarly journals that use an appropriate quality control system to guarantee the content." International Journal of Health Geographics fits the criteria.It charges authors to be included, though the fee may be waived.

Is that the best way to make scientific information available? Is it "better than" advertising and subscriptions? The jury is still out.However, it's worth noting that a recent study found free access journals are well-cited.About 5-10% of all scholarly journals now provide free access.(Just to be clear, Directions Magazines and its peers are considered trade journals.We use the traditional model where advertising and/or subscription fees support the business.Content, while sometimes scholarly, is more geared to the casual, but interested reader.These days, few geospatially related trade publications in the United States charge subscriber fees of any kind.)

Citizen Reporting
More and more online publications are finding ways to let "regular people" participate in the coverage of news stories.I read personal stories of when the tsunami hit Southeast Asia, and intimate reflections on the Pope's death from around the world.During this week's floods in New York, the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York hosted a special page for local residents to share photos and stories.

That got me to thinking about September 2004.I was in Nashville at the Mid-year NSGIC meeting.Many of the USGS and east cost state representatives left early to be home to react to Hurricane Isabel.USGS opened a special Isabel channel on Geodata.gov and noted its success in articles afterward.Perhaps one day Geodata.gov may be to provide a "Citizen GIS" input capability, providing datasets, point data, images and other local information that can be organized spatially.

Call for Integration
All of these tidbits really drive home one point.While we who work in and write about geospatial technologies, like to keep a keen focus on our work, we always need to open our eyes to other communities of practice to learn from them.Directions Magazine has, for example, kept a close eye on general IT issues.(Did you read about dual-core chips in the Monday issue?)

I want to open that door a bit further.Since we create (and of course analyze) data we need to keep an eye on best practices and trends in publishing, both online and off.We need also to keep close ties to libraries and data management/content management communities.And, of course, we need to follow the ups and downs of content licensing.Your input on these topics, and their implications for, or use in the geospatial arena, are most welcome.

Published Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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