this public domain or “intellectual commons” include fostering public discourse, innovation, and equality.1

7.2.1 Public Discourse

Culture and politics depend on citizens’ ability to obtain, display, and manipulate information. During the 1960s, for example, artists and activists used National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) images of Earth to transform popular culture and advance the modern environmental movement.2

Government acquisition seldom reflects the entire value of publicly shared goods because the beneficiaries—members of the public and other tertiary users—do not sit at the bargaining table. Those who do—government agencies and vendors—can be expected to prioritize their own interests. In this environment, the benefits to the public generally may not seem worth the additional cost to an agency of acquiring full rights in data. This does not make the value of information for public discourse any less real or any less valuable. Basic geographic data and works may be essential to modern political and cultural debates.

7.2.2 Innovation

Fostering creativity, whether scientific, artistic, or otherwise, requires the right balance between proprietary rights and free or open access to information. The ability of data providers to control and receive compensation has encouraged large numbers of vendors to enter the market. On the other hand, the availability at low cost of the U.S. Geological


These goals are not entirely inconsistent with intellectual property and contract rights; the problem of striking the correct balance is covered in Chapter 6, Section 6.2. Our purpose here is to make explicit the benefits of a robust public domain.


For example, the “earthrise” photographs from Apollo 8 gave a new global perspective of the planet (see <>).


Chapter 6 discusses the role of public domain information in fostering further development of geographic data products (see in particular Section 6.2). Our purpose here is to make more explicit the benefits of public domain information, recognizing that the ultimate determination of when public domain information is desirable requires a balancing of costs and benefits.

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