Agencies need data to support a wide variety of mandates and missions.3 For this reason, there is no simple answer to the question of when agencies should choose to acquire geographic data through restrictive licenses. Licenses can be made to work in most cases in which geographic data are needed; the challenge lies in determining when licensing data subject to use restrictions is superior to in-house production, purchase of unencumbered data, or acquisition through grants, prizes, cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs), partnerships, or other alternative methods.

One logical starting point is to identify the method that achieves agency missions at the greatest excess of benefits over costs.4 Licensing may or may not be this method. The following four examples illustrate some advantages and disadvantages of licensing.

  1. Time-Sensitive First Response. As discussed in Chapter 4, Section, licensing data from the private sector can sometimes result in substantial benefits at minimal direct cost. For example, Palm Beach County, Florida, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) both used licensing to acquire data more quickly than they otherwise could have.

  2. Transaction Costs of Licensing Relative to the Value of the Data. Licensing may have significant limitations in some circumstances, particularly for small-scale projects in which transaction costs for negotiating and administering contracts may be prohibitively expensive in light of the size of the overall project.5 In these


As used in this discussion, a mandate is a required function that is defined by statute, administrative code, or case law. A mission, on the other hand, is either a discretionary function or is an approach to accomplishing a mandated function that is carried out as part of a strategic or operational direction. A strategic direction must necessarily accommodate the overall information policies of government as expressed in its laws and regulations.


This is only a starting point since agencies must address more than their own parochial interests; they need to consider the full range of interests encompassed by the legislated mandates and missions. A comprehensive benefit-cost analysis would include both short-term and long-term perspectives and consider both quantifiable and nonquantifiable factors.


This applies when licenses must be individually negotiated. It would not apply to click-wrap or other forms of mass licensing. Transaction costs for licensing tend to be extremely varied—sometimes greater, and sometimes less than for other procurement methods—in part because of the geographic data community’s relative inexperience in working with licensing environments compared with its experience with other methods.

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