Saturday, July 31, 2010

What Do Recent Creative Commons and OSM Blog Posts Suggest?

A license agreement is a complex legal document. It is used for more than just transferring intellectual property rights; it is also a mechanism to allocate various types of risk between the licensor and the licensee. I believe that drafting a license of spatial data is even more complex given some of the unique attributes of spatial data (e.g. that a single data set can be used in a number of different applications even though it may not be suited for all such applications) and some uncertainties of the law in this area (e.g. what is "a reasonable expectation of privacy" from a location standpoint?). As a result, I have been closely following the development of the OpenStreetMap license and push to use the Creative Commons suite of licenses for spatial data.

Both camps recently issued blog posts (CC blog post; OSM blog post) that were surprisingly defensive in tone, particularly given how certain they, or at least their proponents are, in their respective missions. Looking past the tone however, what one sees (or at least what I see) is that licensors are pushing back on the "one size fits all" model. It will be interesting to see whether this is true and if so whether this trend will continue.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Cost of Free Earth Observation Data

A few weeks ago Space News ran an article entitled " ESA Data Access Policy Draws Mixed Reviews". The article details how the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission have decided that almost all data from their earth observation satellites will be offered free of charge. The article states in part:

"[i]n a presentation outlining the rationale for the open-access policy [Susan Mecklenburg, mission manager for ESA's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite] said the agency is facing increased demand for data as part of a global scientific examination of climate change"

Not surprisingly, prospective users of the satellites' diverse data sets are reportedly pleased at the decision. And why not . . . after all, free is good, right? According to the report, NASA is also a big fan of this decision, as it is a strong proponent of "free and open" data for scientific research.

The report did note however, that owners of remote sensing satellites that were all or partly funded by the private sector, are concerned. Companies such as Deimos Imaging of Spain, Spot Image of France, Infoterra of Britain and Germany as well as e-Geos in Italy have business plans based upon the sale of similar Earth observation data sets. This new data policy almost certainly will impact the revenue that they will be able to generate from sales of their respective data sets in order to pay back their investors.

I was thinking about this article the other day as I read a recent report from the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) on Earth Observation and Climate Change. The reports' authors suggest that successive U.S. administrations have not allocated enough resources to NASA for remote sensing from space for climate change. Although NASA itself has received a great deal of money, much of it has been directed towards manned space flight - something much sexier and politically popular than remote sensing. The authors recommend the Obama Administration to specifically direct more NASA resources to collecting remote sensing data, particularly to monitor climate change. The report notes that what is needed is:

"investing in the Earth observation systems necessary for producing the right data over the right time and space horizons, coordinating data collection, interpreting and sharing to maximize the data's benefits, focusing on the human and social science effects of climate change, improving modeling capabilities, and making this information accessible and relevant for a wide range of users . . "

The report continues:

"[m]uch of our data comes from satellites put in orbit for other purposes, such as weather prediction and monitoring. The sensors on these weather satellites provide valuable data, but they are not optimized for monitoring climate change or for adequately assessing the effect of mitigation efforts. More precise and specialized data are needed to understand and predict climate change, and getting these data will require new orbital sensors."

According to the report, many missions and observations for collecting climate change are at a risk of interruption. Many satellites are well past their planned lifetimes and the sensors that are ill suited for the necessary tasks.

When I finished the CSIS report, I came to realize that perhaps there is a price for this "free" data: the lack of "precise and specialized data" needed for policymakers to make accurate decisions on such matters as climate change. The fact is, producing good quality and timely data is very expensive. Insisting on free government data increases the likelihood that the data will be of lesser quality and timeliness. The CSIS report suggests that was true at NASA even when there was a great deal of money generally available, because that money was spent on other projects that provided a greater return on investment, in either capital or public relations. During this likely extended period of budget constraints, it will be even harder for governments to allocate the necessary resources to support the collection and distribution of free data.

Private companies have increasingly shown the appetite to participate in projects to fill the data gaps. However, free data initiatives will make it much more difficult for them to develop sustainable business models.

Pricing the capture, processing and distribution of remote sensing data is hard, particularly when it is being used for a public good. However, undercutting industry by offering free data will likely prove to be counter-productive at best, and potentially harmful to the effort to monitor climate change. The remote sensing community (both industry and government) needs to continue to search for licensing model(s) that work for both the data providers and the data users to ensure both needs are met.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Smart Cars and Spatial Law

As this article in the Telegraph (UK) highlights, smart cars and intelligent transportation systems will raise the complexity and significance of spatial law issues. For example, who owns the data that is collected and how can it be used or shared? What level of expectation of privacy will be reasonable within our cars in the future. Morever, what level of data quality can consumers expect and what will be the potential liability exposure if those expectations are not met? Finally, who will be deciding the answers to these questions: the courts, legislators, industry or the marketplace? Stay tuned - it should be an interesting ride!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Connecticut court's ruling on FOIA and Pictometry imagery

Recently, a Superior Court in Connecticut made a ruling as to whether Pictometry imagery, metadata and software was subject to disclosure under the state's Freedom of Information Act. (FOIA). The state's Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) ruled in 2008. (The request was made by a Mr. Stephen Whitaker, who is quite well known in FOIA circles, for cases such as this.) asked for Pictometry imagery, software and metadata under Connecticut's Freedom of Information Act.

The state's Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) ruled in 2008 in part that:

a. software and metadata were trade secrets and therefore exempt from mandatory disclosure under FOIA; and

b. imagery was not subject to any of the FOIA exemptions and should be disclosed.

On appeal, the court in this decision ruled the following:

a. the disclosure of the imagery, without metadata and software, was not a security risk. (A security risk being one of the reasons a government agency in Connecticut does not have disclose information under FOIA);

b. material protected under the Federal Copyright Act, such as Pictometry imagery, was not exempted under the state's FOIA;

c. because the Pictometry imagery was protected by copyright, however, if Whitaker used it for anything other than "fair use" under the Copyright Act, Pictometry might have a claim against him (or perhaps the state). Specifically, the court stated: "[S]hould disclosure as ordered by the FOIC and use by Whitake not fall within "Fair Use" exception and infringe the copyright, matters not ripe for consideration here, Pictometry's rights and remedies for injunctive relief . . . remain intact. So too, it its contractual rights and remedies"; and

d. state agencies cannot charge Whitaker $25 per image they disclose to him, even though that is what they have to for each image under the contract with Pictometry.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Getting to the "bottom" of Google Street View and Privacy

A lady in the UK was so concerned that a random image of the naked bottom of her (anonymous) 3-year old son playing in his grandmother's yard was visible on Google Street View - that was subsequently blurred - violated his privacy . . . that she granted an interview to a local newspaper that gave her name, the city and the street where the boy lived, and included a picture of her and her son (in addition to the Google Street View shot). Good for her!

Thanks to CNET for point this out.