8.4.3 The Agency as Licensor

Government mandates often may require or be best supported by free distribution of acquired data. At the federal level, licensing of government data to others typically occurs through specific legislative exceptions (e.g., CRADAs,31 Landsat Commercialization Act), and when there is a need to “pass through” commercial license provisions that apply to proprietary data that the government possesses (e.g., NGA’s Clearview Agreement and data from the USGS’s SPOT data archives in Sioux Falls). Otherwise, federal agencies are severely constrained in how they may limit access to data in which they possess full rights. The same also applies to many—though not all—state and local government agencies. These restrictions usually limit the ability of federal agencies and many local agencies to recover fees above the marginal cost of distribution.

The next subsection begins by discussing the revenue generation and pricing goals that an agency choosing to distribute data under license to outside users might pursue. The second subsection addresses how agencies can use licenses to achieve various noneconomic goals. Revenue Generation and Pricing Goals

During the 1990s, many jurisdictions experimented with cost-recovery fees for geographic data. Ten years later, many of these entities have concluded that fee programs32

  • cannot recover a worthwhile fraction of government data budgets,

  • seldom cover operating expenses, and

  • act as a drag on private-sector investments that otherwise would add to the tax base and grow the economy.


CRADAs involving digital geographic data may or may not impose restrictions on the dissemination and use of the data produced or made more readily accessible through the CRADA. See the CRADA involving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hydrographic charts and the USGS-Microsoft TerraServer CRADA described in Chapter 4, Section 4.2.2.


See Chapter 4 (Section 4.3).

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